Sprained ankles happen. A lot. Just ask anyone that has ever played basketball at any level and they will tell you at one time or another they have sprained, "tweaked", turned, or twisted at least one of their ankles. The ankle is the most commonly sprained joint and occurs over 20,000 times a day. Given these facts it is easy to understand how athletes at the highest level often miss time with an ankle injury. Ankle problems can be maddening for fantasy owners. One player can suffer an ankle sprain and not miss any time, while others suffer the injury and are shelved for weeks. However save yourself the headaches and try to better understand the injury, thus allowing you to make the best decision regarding your fantasy teams.
Ankle injuries are classified by their location or the manner in which they are injured. Lateral ankle sprain (ligaments on the outside of the foot) are the most common and are usually the result of excessive inversion from a sharp cut or landing on another player's foot. Like all sprains, they occur in varying degrees of severity. A Grade I sprain is considered minor with partial or micro tearing of the effected ligaments. These injuries occur frequently in the NBA and often cause a player to miss little or no action. Miami's LeBron James suffered what was likely a Grade I sprain on Wednesday and sat out Thursday's loss to the Nuggets. He is expected back on Saturday when the Heat travel to Chicago to take on the Bulls. Portland's Wesley Matthews is also dealing with a minor ankle sprain but hopes to be available Friday for his team's game against the Suns. A sprained left ankle has also bothered Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans and caused him to miss three games. Evans, also dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis, is optimistic about a Friday return.
A Grade II sprain is classified as a partial tear and is more painful and limiting. Grade II injuries are often accompanied by a considerable amount of swelling and require rest and more intensive treatment. A Grade III is uncommon in sports but remains a devastating injury. These injuries result in a loss of function and mechanical stability. They often result in a long period of inactivity and in some rare cases require surgery.
A Grade II or III sprain also is more likely to have long-term ramifications, primarily on the stability of the joint and the likelihood of recurrence. Once sprained, a ligament never completely returns to its original state. Imagine a rubber band. A rubber band fresh from the package is full of bounce and easily stretches and returns to its original shape. However following multiple uses, the rubber band will eventually pass what is known as its yield point and become overstretched. From then on the rubber band will it never return to its initial size and shape. Ligaments at the ankle act in a similar fashion.
When an ankle is sprained, the strength and physical integrity of the sprained ligament remains forever altered. Once an ankle has been sprained it is more susceptible to being aggravated and re-sprained. This is the situation (along with a little bad luck) that Minnesota's Michael Beasley is currently facing. Beasley suffered a left ankle sprain on January 8 against the Blazers. He did not miss a game, suiting up two days later against the Spurs. However he did not play in the second half after aggravating the injury. The following game he was once again rolled the ankle after coming down on the foot of Tim Duncan and had to be helped off the court. The third occurrence convinced Beasley that rest and rigorous treatment was needed and he did not play Thursday against the Wizards. Beasley will be put through an exercise protocol designed to strengthen and stabilize the ankle. However despite the best work of the Minnesota medical staff, the ankle will likely never be the same. He will probably need to maintain a daily rehab routine to help prevent recurrence. Closely monitor Beasley's availability in practice before playing him with confidence and remember his chances of re-injuring the ankle remain higher than normal.
While ankle injuries are common there are ways to combat the injury. Ankle braces and tape jobs reinforce ligaments and shoes are now designed to help minimize the amount of stress placed through the joint. Even the body has a natural line of defense against an ankle sprain, utilizing muscles to help right the foot when it is awkwardly wrenched. Behind the lateral malleolus of the ankle (that big bump on the outside of your ankle) run two tendons. These tendons belong to the peroneus longus and peroneus brevis (or as they are also known the fibualris longus and brevis), two muscles located in the lower leg. They work together to help steady the foot on the leg. Unfortunately even these defenses can fail and, like in the case of Cleveland's Anderson Varejao, the tendons can tear if overly stretched. Varejao tore the peroneus longus tendon and will miss the remainder of the season. Surgery will be needed to suture the tear but should allow him to return in time for the start of next season. In the meantime, JJ Hickson has emerged from Byron Scott's doghouse and produced solid numbers in Varejao's absence. In the three games since the injury, Hickson has averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds, and that includes the lopsided loss to the Lakers that every Cavs fan will try to erase from their minds. See if Hickson is still available after many dropped him following a terribly, unproductive stretch.
Houston's Kevin Martin has missed the Rockets' last two games with a sprain to his right wrist, not his ankle. Like in the ankle, overstretched ligaments in the wrist can cause swelling and loss of motion and stability. Martin's injury is particularly troublesome since it occurred to his shooting hand and any limitation would alter his shooting mechanics. Martin plans on playing Friday but scale back your expectations until the guard can prove he will not be hampered by the injury.
Kevin Garnett has returned to practice but don't expect to see the Big Ticket back on the court over the weekend. Despite considerable improvement in his strained calf, the Celtics will not play KG against the Bobcats on Friday, providing him several more days to rest. Garnett has missed eight straight games with the ailment but is likely to return Monday against the Magic. His return will help ease the possible loss of Jermaine O'Neal who could be done for the season if surgery is deemed the best solution for his ailing knee. O'Neal underwent a MRI on Wednesday and is currently weighing his options.
Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for Rotowire.com. You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.