Sprained Ankle, When to Call the Pediatrician

I think my child has sprained her ankle. How can I tell when to call the pediatrician? – A common question for many parents. Did you know that the ankle is the most commonly sprained joint, followed by the knee and wrist? This may seem like an innocent injury, but in some cases, the symptoms, which can include swelling, inability to walk or bear weight – ouch! –  can be quite painful and uncomfortable.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sprains are injuries to the ligaments that connect bones to one another. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched excessively or torn. In a mild sprain, the ligament is overstretched. More severe sprains can involve partial tearing of the ligament, or complete tearing.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of sprains in young children include: pain; swelling around the joint; inability to walk, bear weight, or use the joint. Please note that the symptoms of a sprain may resemble those of a fracture or other conditions. Be sure to consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis.

When to call the Doc

Make sure to call your child’s pediatrician if your child has a joint injury and has excessive swelling or pain. The pediatrician will examine your child, and your child may then undergo x-rays – to determine that it’s not a fracture or break; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); and/or other procedures.


Specific treatment for a sprain will be determined by your child’s physician based on your child’s age, extent of injury, medical history, overall health, etc. Initial treatment may include R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Other treatment options may include: splint/cast, crutches/wheelchair, or physical therapy, among other options.

Most mild sprains will heal within two weeks without consecutive complications. Your child’s physician should be called any time a joint injury fails to heal or swelling recurs. Disregarding these signs could result in more severe damage and long-term disability.

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