Russell Westbrook Ankle Sprain: A Mild Injury But He’s At Risk For More

Late in the third quarter of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s eventual 122-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, OKC’s star point guard Russell Westbrook went up to grab a rebound in traffic and twisted his left ankle as he landed on the foot of New Orleans’ PF/C Anthony Davis.  Russell Westbrook immediately hobbled to the locker room, leaving an eerie hush over the normally raucous crowd:

After the game, x-rays on the left ankle came back as negative and yesterday it was reported that Russell Westbrook was essentially day to day with a left ankle sprain with no set timeline for return. Rather, the Thunder medical staff would gauge how his ankle responded to treatment and go from there.

Although Russell Westbrook seems to have avoided a serious ankle injury (and ankle sprains often look far worse to the eye than what they are), there are still some legitimate concerns going forward, including a higher risk for re-injury. To understand why, I’ll take you through the following:

  • The injury itself
  • The typical timetable for return
  • Risk of re-injury & considerations moving forward

I. Russell Westbrook Ankle Sprain

Here’s the specific moment where the ankle sprain for Russell Westbrook occurred:

russell westbrook
Credit – FoxSports

You can see how the left ankle turned inwards aka “inverted”. When the ankle joint turns inwards like that and beyond it’s normal range of motion, the ligaments – think of them like rubber bands that help stabilize the joint – on the lateral (outer) part of the ankle are overstretched and damaged.

russell westbrook
Credit – Dr. Rajpal Brar & Complete Anatomy

In this case, the injury is specifically known as an “inversion ankle sprain”. It’s the most common type of ankle injury and one of the most common injuries, period (click here, here, here, here, and here for more info). With this injury, there’s also a possibility of fracturing the fibula (the bone on the outside of your lower leg):

russell westbrook
Credit – Hawkes PhysioTherapy

That knob on the outside part of your ankle (go ahead, touch it) is where the fibula ends.  The possibility of fibular fracture is why Russell Westbrook had xrays taken, to rule it in or out.

Further, the ligament damage from an ankle sprain is generally classified into grades 1, 2, or 3 with each grade corresponding to a higher degree of ligament damage:

russell westbrook
Every sprain is a tear, don’t let that word scare you. Credit – Pinterest

Based on Westbrook’s day to day status, I’m almost positive he has the mild grade 1 sprain.  That being said, lets take a look at the typical return to play timetable….

II. Timetable For Return

A grade 1 ankle sprain usually takes two to four weeks to heal fully but athletes commonly return to play in less than a week. In Westbrook’s case where he’s been ruled day to day depending on his response to treatment, the Thunder’s schedule may give some more insight into his return date:

russell westbrook

He’s already been ruled out for the Cavs game and I’d assume the medical staff will want to test that ankle during a live practice before clearing him to return.  With the Thunder on a back to back and no practice time, I’d expect his earliest return date to be Saturday 11/10 against the Mavericks.  If the team looks at the schedule and says “we probably don’t need him to beat the Mavs or the Suns so lets make sure he’s 100% going forward”, there’s the possibility he comes back against the Knicks on 11/18 after a full week of recovery.

Personally I don’t take any ankle sprain, regardless of severity, lightly.  Research shows that nearly 30% of people with a grade 1 ankle sprain go on to develop chronic ankle instability.  I always advise to err on the side of caution. Additionally, there’s an increased chance for re-injury…

III.  Russell Westbrook Re-Injury Risk

Any ankle sprain, including a grade 1 sprain, increases the risk for another sprain. Research shows that about 10 to 15% of grade 1 ankle sprains are re-injured after return, resulting in clusters of ankle sprains.

These clusters occur due to a self-reinforcing vicious cycle in which ligament laxity (looseness), weakened peroneal muscles (these are muscles on the outside of your foot that help pull the ankle back outwards when it’s about to roll inwards), decreased ankle range of motion and weight distribution patterns, and deficits in balance systems (namely the proprioceptive and vestibular systems) make it easier to roll the ankle and beget further laxity, weakness, and deficits.

For those reasons, there’s certainly a chance that Russell Westbrook re-injures that left ankle when he does get back.  However, it’s not likely.

IV. All In All

Russell Westbrook likely suffered a grade 1 inversion sprain of his left ankle and has been ruled as day to day based on how responds to treatment. Most athletes commonly miss less than a week with the injury and based on the Thunder’s schedule, I expect him to be back this weekend or next Wednesday 11/18 at latest.

When he does come back, he’s at an increased chance for re-injuring the ankle and even though it’s only a mild injury, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  That being said, I trust the Thunder medical staff to handle it very well.

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Posted in NBA

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