HOMER GLEN – High school senior and Homer Glen resident Danny Gleaves is headed to Michigan State University next year with a baseball scholarship and a goal of a degree in engineering.
He loves the sport, and the recruiters loved him. However, Gleaves’ dream of proceeding along the path to a career in professional baseball came close to a screeching halt when he suffered a serious ankle injury early in his junior year.
A messy bone break, combined with ligament damage, was so bad Gleaves was told to say goodbye to a pro sports career.
“They said it would be a surprise if I ever played sports again,” Gleaves said.
The injury happened during football practice with his St. Rita High School team in Chicago.
“I was trying to run in the end zone,” Gleaves said. “I went to the outside of my right foot, and it kind of snapped. You could feel the pop throughout the body.”
Ankle injuries are common in sports, said Gleaves’ orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Ari Kaz, who is with the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital. Since legs, ankles and feet carry the body’s weight, just stepping wrong while in motion can compromise the joint.
Gleaves said he doesn’t remember much pain at the time of the injury as a lot of adrenalin was pumping through his body. He needed a plate and 12 screws to his fibula at his right ankle to repair it. The surgeon had to stitch a ligament, too.
“I was out for the whole season, plus the first couple of baseball practices, too,” Gleaves said.
Gleaves took his physical therapy seriously. He never missed a session, and he faithfully continued the rehab at home and at the gym. He also worked on his upper-body strength.
“I figured getting in the gym was better than sitting on the couch all day,” Gleaves said.
The next baseball season wasn’t his best, but it was good enough for Michigan State to notice. This season, Gleaves said, he’s at 100 percent.
Ankle sprains account for almost half of all sports injuries and are a common reason why athletes take time off from activities, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. An estimated 25,000 Americans suffer from an ankle sprain each day.
More than 80 percent of ankle sprains are the result of inversion, or an inward rolling of the ankle, which is most commonly seen in athletic activities that involve running, pivoting and jumping. Repetitive trauma can also weaken and injure ankle ligaments.
Kaz said most of the ankle injuries he sees result from the side-to-side movements athletes make. He also sees a significant number from one person stepping on another’s foot, especially in basketball and soccer.
He is seeing an increase in ankle sprains caused by overuse these days.
“Kids are playing sports all year-round, and a lot of that is high demand sports with high intensity,” Kaz said. “They need time off from competitive sports.”
He hopes parents and coaches consider the body’s need for recuperation when scheduling their student athletes.
“How parents balance that for their children is a very personal choice,” Kaz said. “The balance seems to be tipping toward too much activity and not enough rest.”
Good physical conditioning also decreases the risk of ankle injuries, Kaz said.
“They should make sure they’re in shape before they play at a competitive level,” Kaz said. “They also must understand the proper motions to succeed in that sport, making sure they understand where their body is in space. And to wear protective gear.”
According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, the most common ankle injuries are caused by repeated pounding on paved surfaces and from side-to-side motion.
Baseball players, according to the ACFAS, are prone to ankle sprains, overuse or excessive training that can lead to Achilles tendonopathy. Wearing cleats may pose challenges in the forefoot, as well as aggravation of neuromas, sesamoids, bunions and hammertoe.
Soccer is described as being very hard on the feet, with injuries such as inversion ankle sprains, ankle fractions, metatarsal fractures, contusions and bone bruises and tendonitis. Lacrosse can cause similar injuries.
The swing of a golf club can place stress on the feet and ankles, as well, especially the ball of the foot that pivots.
Tennis involves a great deal of foot work, and playing on hard surfaces can contribute to injuries such as inversion ankle sprains, tendon injuries, fractures, tendonitis, sesamoiditis, stress fractures and calcaneal apophysitis in children and adolescents, which is a painful inflammation of the heel’s growth plate.