You are playing in your local recreation league basketball game and you jump to get a rebound and land on another player’s foot. You feel immediate pain on the outside of your ankle: “Ouch.”
You are having a great day skiing. It is sunny and the snow is great! You take one more run and are making a turn when you feel something “go” in your knee. You manage to ski down the mountain, but you can tell something is not right in your knee.
In either of the above scenarios the question is: “What now?” Should you seek medical care? Wrap it? Shake it off and get on with life? In general your first step should be to try to avoid injuring your joint even more. That means removing yourself from play or the mountain — at least initially. Second, it is always a good idea to apply ice to the injured joint, elevate it above your heart, and to wrap it with an Ace bandage. This helps to minimize swelling, inflammation, and pain.
Should you seek medical care? In general, if you are not able to bear weight on your limb, you are having severe pain, or your bone or joint clearly looks “out of place,” you should seek immediate medical care.
If none of the above are occurring it is generally a good idea to keep the joint elevated with ice on it for 15-20 minutes several times/day, keep the joint wrapped with an Ace bandage when you are weight bearing, and try to keep the joint moving. This means moving the foot/ankle or knee in all the directions it usually moves in a pain-free range, starting the day after the injury. This is to prevent the joint from getting stiff which will slow your recovery. With these measures and resting from activity, things will calm down within a week.
If pain or swelling goes beyond 7-10 days despite these measures you should see your doctor, athletic trainer or physical therapist who can make an assessment of the extent of the injury and advise you of next steps.
Ann Greenan Naumann, PT, is a Clinical Lead Physical Therapist at the Orthopedic Specialty Center. She has specialized training in physical therapy treatment of men and women with pelvic floor dysfunction as well as 30 years of experience treating patients with low back and lumbo-pelvic disorders.