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Q: My son hurt his ankle during a basketball game and is complaining it hurts. His next game is a week away. Should I take him to the doctor? Does he need to have an X-ray right away?
A: First, decide how severe the injury appears. Is there an obvious deformity or significant bleeding? Does the circulation to his foot and toes seem poor? Did he hear a "pop" or "crack"? Swelling and discoloration are common with any type of injury, but is there too much swelling and discoloration? Is he refusing to stand on it at all? If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, I'd recommend calling his doctor and having him seen.
If his ankle doesn't look too bad to you, I would recommend the following: Keep your son's ankle elevated, putting ice on it. Give him some ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for any pain and swelling. Limit his activity, and have him stay off his ankle for a bit. Although injuries take time to heal, many will quickly improve with these conservative measures. As he seems to improve, have him stretch his ankle gently and gradually increase his activity level. If after five to seven days, he's not getting better and especially if he seems worse, contact his doctor.
Team sports are a wonderful outlet for children and I always encourage active participation with good sportsmanship. Injuries, unfortunately, do occur, but children are more resilient than adults -- they tend to bounce back and recover quickly.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.