Last weekend, the Detroit Lions stunned the world—and thrilled fans—by defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning them a spot in the NFC Conference Finals against the San Francisco 49ers. Why was the win so shocking? The reasons are many—and we’ll highlight them all in a moment. Sadly, however, the victory was not without its costs. And now, while the Lions’ Pro Bowl Center is dealing with a sprained knee and sprained ankle, the world is left to wonder. Will injuries be what keeps the Lions from making their first ever Super Bowl appearance? Let’s break down all the facts, together with some thoughtful analysis from your podiatrists in Massapequa, Long Island. 

The Detroit Lions:  A True Underdog Story

Leading up to the weekend’s NFC Conference Finals, the Lions are have a 6.5 underdog betting rate against the 49s. And that’s not surprising. First of all, this appearance marks the second time in history that the Lions have ever made it to their conference finals. (Their last appearance happened 33 years ago, in 1991.) 

Now, in the three intervening decades, there hasn’t been a lot for Lions fans to celebrate. Prior to this season, the team hadn’t hosted a home playoff game in 30 years, and hadn’t even seen a playoffs win for 32 years. Plus, this season’s train ride to success came without the assistance of any super star players on the team. In fact, only coach Dan Campbell is truly a household name. And most of that recognition is a result of the team’s epic accomplishments this season. So, now you know why the Lions have picked up so many new fans during their epic playoffs run. And why so many are hoping that their Cinderella story will have a happy ending. Yet, as with so many other NFL teams, pesky injuries may prove to be a bigger stumbling block than expected. Here’s why. 

Frank Ragnow’s Sprained Ankle and Sprained Knee A football on turf

In the process of defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, the 2018 draft pick—who represented the Lions at the Pro Bowl and who has started in 80 regular season games for the team—suffered both a sprained knee and a sprained ankle. (The injuries are likely related, but more on that in a minute.)

Now, despite his pain, Ragnow didn’t miss a single snap in the victory game. And he’s planning to play against the 49ers. But, Nassau County podiatrists Dr. Mark Gasparini and Dr. Novneet Chhabra think that this move could be a big mistake, both for Ragnow and for the Lions. This is why. 

Sprained Ankle and Sprained Knee Injuries: What’s the Connection? 

You know that old song, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone? Well, the same is obviously true of the ligaments and tendons that run through your legs and into your ankles and feet. And when something is off in your feet or ankles—the base of your body’s stability, more troubles are sure to follow. In fact, research suggests that an injury in the lower body could actually be the cause of problems higher up on your legs. 

In a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, study authors note that, while some knee and ankle injuries may occur simultaneously, “The force of the injury through the ankle can also put a twisting load on the joint just below the knee. This is the tibiofibular joint, the place where the two bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula) meet.” And, if that’s the case, you could be left with back to back ankle and knee injuries, just like Ragnow is now experiencing. 

Treating a Sprained Ankle to Prevent Further Injury

Many patients—athlete’s especially—think that they can just walk off a sprained ankle. Indeed, Ragnow played through his injuries in his matchup against the Buccs. And he plans to play through his sprained ankle and knee—just one week after suffering these injuries—in what could be the NFL game of his life. So, you know he’s not going to go easy on himself after kick off. But that could end badly for both the Lions, and for the player himself. 

You see, knee and ankle sprains occur when you stretch or tear your ligaments (the tough tissue bands that keep your bones in place.) The result? Symptoms include pain, swelling, and limits on your range of motion—none of which are conducive to professional-level football play. 

Now, for most patients, suffering a knee or ankle sprain will result in immediate treatment: you’ll need to rest, ice, compress and elevate the injured knee or ankle for several days following your injury. Depending on the severity of your injury, rest and recovery for a sprained ankle will take between two and twelve weeks. And rehabbing a sprained knee takes about six weeks or longer. So, when Ragnow lines up against the 49ers this Sunday, he’ll at best be playing in a sub-par state of health, meaning he’s unlikely to contribute his best effort to the Lions. And, at worst? He’s risking the chance of exacerbating his existing injuries, or sustaining or worse foot or ankle problem.

In short, by playing hurt, NFL stars like Ragnow compromise their performance, and their health. In fact, failing to fully rehab an injury is often the reason why NFL players have to retire from the game prematurely. It’s also why many former athletes spend their retirement living with chronic aches and pains. Luckily, however, there’s a better way forward: preventing sprained ankles and knees (and other injuries) by correcting instabilities before they result in injuries. 

Could Custom Orthotics Prevent a Sprained Ankle? 

Now, when you play in the NFL, a sprained knee or ankle is often the result of being tackled by another 200-plus pound player. But, in real life, such injuries are often the result of weaknesses or instabilities in your feet and ankles. 

Luckily, here in the office, we can correct biomechanical weaknesses and instability in your feet and ankles with a simple medical device: a custom orthotic insert. Molded to fit your specific foot shape, these insoles provide support and stability exactly where you need them. In turn, this strengthens your feet, ankles, knees and more, helping prevent pain and injury regardless of your activity level. 

Have you been plagued by ankle instability, chronic back or knee pain, or frequent sprained ankles? Custom orthotics could be the solution you’ve been seeking. So reach out to our office for an orthotics consultation. And, except for those 49ers fans out thers, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for Frank Ragnow and his Detroit Lions! 

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