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3 Most Common Foot and Ankle Injuries in Football

by AOFAS | Sep 09, 2022

Gear up for football season with an overview from foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons

Rosemont Ill. (September 9, 2022) - Football is one of the most popular sports in the United States, but the high speed and impact can put players at risk for foot and ankle injuries. As football season gets underway, foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons discuss the most common injuries that might happen on the field, treatment, and prevention tips.

1. Lateral Ankle Sprain

Foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons, J. Chris Coetzee, MD, from Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Kirk A. McCullough, MD, from Kansas City Orthopedic Institute in Leawood, Kansas, agree that lateral ankle sprains are the most common injuries they see during football season. This type of ankle sprain is typically caused by “rolling the ankle” inward and tearing the outer ligaments. The player will instantly feel pain, tenderness, and swelling on the outside of the ankle.

As Dr. Coetzee explains, lateral ankle injuries are graded on a scale from 1 to 3. Grade 1 is a mild sprain where the player might miss one or two plays and then go back on the field without issues. With a Grade 2 sprain, the player will likely come out for part or most of the game, and the ankle will be taped or braced for extra support. Grade 3 is a complete ligament disruption that results in a cast or boot for 7-10 days, followed by supervised rehabilitation.

"Athletes may be able to return to play 2-4 weeks after a Grade 3 sprain, but about 15% will develop chronic instability that might need surgical reconstruction,” says Dr. Coetzee.

2. High Ankle Sprain

A syndesmotic injury, commonly referred to as a "high ankle sprain," happens when high impact or rotational stress is placed on the ligaments of the ankle/lower leg that connect the tibia to the fibula. The player will feel the pain just above the level of the ankle. Sometimes, there is an associated fracture around the ankle.

This type of injury typically takes longer to heal than a traditional sprain, around 6-8 weeks, but Dr. McCullough notes that proper diagnosis and treatment may get players back on the field more efficiently and effectively.

“Early diagnosis, detection of clinically subtle yet functional instability/injury with arthroscopy, and more frequent operative use of dynamic stabilization devices when appropriate have significantly improved the opportunity for recovery and enabled players to return to sport earlier,” he says.

3. Lisfranc Injury

A Lisfranc injury involves the joints and/or the ligaments of the middle of the foot. Dr. Coetzee explains this injury can range from mild to severe and a proper diagnosis from a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon is key to healing properly.

Recovery from Lisfranc injury depends on the severity. If the ligaments and the bones in the middle of the foot are not severely injured or shifted, non-surgical treatment such as a cast for six weeks and physical therapy can be successful. If the bones or ligaments are shifted or injured, Lisfranc surgery may be necessary.

Other common football injuries that have potential to be season-ending are Jones fractures, Achilles tendon ruptures, and forefoot overload injuries (e.g., turf toe, sesamoid injuries). To prevent injuries, Drs. Coetzee and McCullough stress the importance of wearing cleats that fit properly and are not too narrow or too flexible, as well as arriving at training camp in top physical condition to get ready for the season.

To learn more about foot and ankle injuries, visit FootCareMD.

About Foot and Ankle Orthopaedic Surgeons

Foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons are medical doctors (MD and DO) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the foot and ankle. Their education and training consist of four years of medical school, five years of postgraduate residency, and a fellowship year of specialized surgical training. These specialists care for patients of all ages, performing reconstructive surgery for deformities and arthritis, treating sports injuries, and managing foot and ankle trauma.

About the AOFAS

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) mobilizes our dynamic community of foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons to improve patient care through education, research, and advocacy. As the premier global organization for foot and ankle care, AOFAS delivers exceptional events and resources for continuous education, funds and promotes innovative research, and broadens patient understanding of foot and ankle conditions and treatments. By emphasizing collaboration and excellence, AOFAS inspires ever-increasing levels of professional performance leading to improved patient outcomes. For more information visit the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society online at


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