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Should You Play Through An Ankle Sprain?

     When it comes to playing basketball, the last thing you want is any injury; unfortunately, ankle sprains are the most common injury in basketball at any level. It’s a question many of us face – should we tough it out or take a break? In this article, we’ll dive into this dilemma with insights from The Basketball Doctors, Doctors of Physical Therapy, who bring expertise in both the game and player well-being.

Picture This...

     Your team has a home league game and it’s the middle of the 2nd quarter. You’re on the court and playing a solid game all around. The ball is swung to you on the wing, you see a driving lane, rip the ball through and drive into the paint. You get by your initial defender, the center rotates over to help, and load up to finish around the help defender. Suddenly, you feel your ankle roll and a sharp pain shoots through your ankle…

It’s a scenario that even elite players in the NBA have faced and dealt with.

The Conundrum: To Play or Not To Play?

The big question arises – should you soldier through the pain and keep playing? Let’s shed some light on the complexity of this decision. Playing with a hurt ankle often leads to compensating by putting more weight on the uninjured leg, and this may introduce a new set of risks for the knee, ankle, or hip.

Moreover, a recent ankle injury can leave the ankle joint unstable, making it susceptible to a same-day, same-side injury. It’s almost like trying to take a perfect picture on an unstable and wobbly tripod – a bit unpredictable and potentially hazardous.

On the other hand, it’s an important game for your team and yourself at a key stage of the season. If you don’t play, it may cost your team the game and compromise your season.

Risks Associated with Playing Through an Ankle Injury:

Understanding the risks is crucial. Let’s outline the potential consequences:

1. Risk of Injury to Your Other Leg

Overcompensating on the other leg might lead to additional injuries. It’s due to the strain of balancing and putting more stress and load on one leg for an extended period of time. Some of these injuries include ligament injuries to the ankle or knee, overuse injuries (shin splints, achilles’ tendinopathy, jumper’s knee), and hip and/or low back soreness.

2. Re-Injury/Re-Sprain to the Same Ankle

The instability resulting from the initial injury could pave the way for a recurrence. Imagine trying to walk on an unsteady bridge – maintaining balance becomes challenging.

3. Increased Risk of Knee Injuries

With limited ankle mobility, the knee takes on extra stress, potentially resulting in a knee injury. For example, the case of basketball player Derek Rose, who suffered an ankle injury followed by a career altering ACL injury – a testament to the interconnectedness of our body’s mechanics.

4. Prolonged Time Missed on The Court

If any of these previously mentioned injuries occur, you will likely miss more time on the court/practice/training than you would have if you only had to deal with the initial ankle sprain.

Common Strategies Athletes Use to Continue Playing:

For athletes determined to power through, here are some common strategies observed in games:

1. Ankle Brace or Taping

Employing external support, like an ankle brace or tape, offers external stability to the injured joint. However, there’s a trade-off – it may restrict range of motion and add pressure to the knee due to limited ankle movement.

2. Lacing Up or Tightening Your Shoes

Players often tighten their shoes rigorously, providing both foot stability and compression. This compression helps manage swelling, reducing pain. It’s similar to giving your feet a supportive hug.

Post-Game Measures: Seeking Professional Guidance

Regardless of the decision to continue playing, we can’t stress enough the importance of seeking professional advice. Whether from an athletic trainer, sports physical therapist, or orthopedic specialist, a post-game check is crucial. We recommend immediate and continued rehabilitation because rehab is the most important step to your recovery journey.


In conclusion, the decision to play through an ankle injury demands careful consideration of potential repercussions. We hope the insights we provided are comprehensive for you to understand the risks involved and the measures athletes can take to protect themselves. Ankle injuries shouldn’t sideline you from playing the game you love, but making smart decisions and seeking professional guidance ensures a safer and enduring basketball journey. Play on, let’s ball for life!

Additional Resources

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  • 2 Main Phases: 1) Build the Foundation; 2) Sport Specific Training
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YouTube Video


Dabadghaw, Rachana Rehabilitation of lateral ankle sprains in sports
Mattacola et al Rehabilitation of the ankle after acute sprain or chronic instability
Vuurberg et al. Diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ankle sprains: update of an evidence based clinical guideline

The Basketball Doctors - Gabriel Ignacio Physical Therapist

Dr. Gabriel Ignacio PT, DPT, OCS, TPI

The Basketball Doctors - Marco Lopez Physical Therapist

Dr. Marco Lopez PT, DPT, CSCS

Medical Disclaimer:

The Basketball Doctors assume no responsibility or liability for any injury, loss, or damage incurred as a result of any use or reliance upon the information and material contained within or downloaded from its website. The Basketball Doctors are unable to provide any warranty concerning the accuracy or completeness of any information contained herein. The information provided in the videos are by no means complete or exhaustive, and, therefore, does not apply to all conditions, disorders, and health-related issues. The information is not intended to be physical therapy, medicaladvice, or treatment. Any reference to or mention of any particular diagnoses or dysfunctions is intended for informational purposes only and not an attempt to diagnose your particular problems.
     Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard your doctor’s medical advice or delay in seeking it as a result of something on this site. Reliance on any information provided by The Basketball Doctors is solely at your own risk.