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woman in fitness attire holding ankle in pain
April 25, 2023

Common Ankle Injuries, Prevention and Treatment

ThedaCare Orthopedic Specialist Offers Practical Advice

More than 25,000 people sprain their ankle every day in the United States. Over the course of a year, more than one million people see a medical provider because of ankle injuries. Per the National Institutes of Health, the ankle “bears more weight per unit area than any other joint in the body.”

“The most common ankle injuries are sprains and fractures,” said Michal Kozanek, MD, Ph.D., an Orthopedic Specialist and Surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Sprains involve muscles, ligaments or tendons while fractures involve the bones of the foot.”

Most ankle injuries occur when the joint is twisted too far out of its normal range. That can happen while participating in sports or other physical activities, walking or running on uneven surfaces, tripping or falling, rolling the ankle or because of sudden impacts.

“In younger people, ankle injuries tend to be sports or activity-related or caused by growth plate problems,” said Dr. Kozanek. “In older age groups, we tend to see more fractures than sprains because of osteoporosis or osteopenia where brittle bones become a problem. Those bones tend to heal slower.”

Other common foot and ankle injuries include plantar fasciitis, injury to the peroneal tendons, Achilles heel and Lisfranc injuries, which involve a ligament in the arch of the foot.

“Some of the injuries involving the tendons and ligaments are harder to detect,” explained Dr. Kozanek. “At ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, we have state-of-the-art technology to help us better understand injuries, which can be of great benefit for our patients. We also have specially trained musculoskeletal radiologists who are able to recognize a wide variety of abnormalities, which helps us diagnosis injuries.”  

When to See a Provider

“If the patient can’t walk or there’s an obvious deformity of the foot, then he or she should seek treatment as soon as possible,” Dr. Kozanek said. “For a normal sprain, the first line of treatment is the common RICE protocol – that is, rest, ice, compression and elevation. It will likely take some time for the ankle to heal. However, if it has been a few days and the person still cannot stand without pain, or is limping significantly, then it’s time to get the ankle checked by a provider.”

For those who may suffer an ankle injury, the Walk-In Clinic at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain Center in Appleton can offer help. It’s available to anyone who is suffering from a broken bone, muscle injury, work injury, swollen joint, sprain, strain, back pain, fracture or dislocation.

“At their first visit, patients may have x-rays or other imaging taken, meet with a specialist provider, and receive an initial treatment,” explained Dr. Kozanek. “Providers can also arrange for follow-up care as needed.”

Orthopedic Walk-in Care, 2400 E. Capitol Drive, Appleton, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon. To save time ahead of your visit, go to and click on “I’m On My Way.”

For fractures, Dr. Kozanek said treatment gets a little more involved, especially for compound fractures.

“When surgery is required, we are optimized to make that happen as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Kozanek. “The scanners allow us to see the fracture in three dimensions, which helps us with pre-operative planning to choose the right implants – plates and screws – to repair the injury.”

If surgery isn’t needed, splints or casts may be used to support the ankle. If an ankle brace or other supportive device is needed, ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain has a medical equipment division where patients can get fitted at their first visit for whatever orthopedic brace or splint they may need.

Preventing Injuries

To help prevent ankle sprains, Dr. Kozanek provided the following recommendations:

  • Don’t exercise or play sports when you’re tired.
  • Warm up your muscles before engaging in any sport or exercise.
  • Do flexibility, strengthening and balance exercises to increase ankle mobility and strength.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for the activity you’re engaged in.
  • Replace worn out shoes – that is, shoes with uneven heels or poor tread on the sole.
  • Wear shoes that address any foot problems you may have – e.g. high or low arches.
  • Avoid walking or running on uneven surfaces.
  • Wear boots that support your ankle when hiking.

“Ankles are crucial to our mobility, so it’s smart to protect them as much as possible by wearing the proper footwear for the activities we’re engaging in and keeping them strong by having a well-rounded exercise routine,” Dr. Kozanek said. “If someone does experience an ankle injury, our care teams are available to help them recover, and get back to living their best life.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.