Blake Swihart InjuryOn Sunday, June 5, the Red Sox placed Blake Swihart on the 15-day disabled list for what manager John Farrell described as a severe ankle sprain. The injury happened the day before, when Swihart ran full-speed into Fenway’s left field wall while chasing down a foul ball. He made the catch, but the play came at a price.

“Ankle injuries, although somewhat common in sports, are a serious injury,” says Bridget Quinn, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician in the Division of Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The main concern here is that ankle injuries can lead to future ankle injuries, which can have serious effects on an athlete’s immediate and long-term performance by impairing balance, strength and overall stability.

Swihart was able to walk off the field under his own power, but the Red Sox are being cautious. The team says they’ll keep him immobilized for two weeks before reevaluating and deciding how to move forward. That’s the right call, according to Quinn.

“An ankle injury that is not given the full opportunity to heal can place the athlete at risk for chronic pain and instability that continues well after the original injury.”

Baseball, like all sports and activities that require frequent starts and stops, can be hard on a player’s ankles. Two of the most common types of injuries are sprains and fractures.

Ankle sprains are common when a player twists or rolls their foot beyond its normal range of motion. There are different degrees of sprains, but most usually heal on their own with help from the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Still, Quinn cautions against dismissing ankle injuries as a minor injury. “There is a misconception that ankle injuries are not serious. But this is not true! We now understand that they can result in significant long-term consequences with pain, weakness and instability if not addressed.”

Stress fractures are another common ankle injury. A stress fracture is a small crack in the bone and is often the result of overuse. They occur when muscles become tired and lose the ability to absorb shock. “Athletes with stress fractures should have a comprehensive evaluation,” says Quinn. “This should include a nutritional assessment (vitamin D deficiency, calcium, etc.) and evaluation of their strength and flexibility.”

As with most injuries, the best medicine is prevention. That’s why it’s important for athletes to take the time to stretch and warm up properly before participating in physical activity. Quinn notes, “Ankle injuries are common and one injury can increase the risk for another. The most important preventative strategy is to rehabilitate an ankle injury. Exercises that focus on balance, strengthening of the foot, ankle, hip, glute, and core are key to prevention.

Quinn adds that it’s important for all athletes to be patient and allow injuries to fully heal before returning to the game. The same holds true for Swihart, no matter how long it takes.