If what Rory McIlroy says is true, and he suffered a "total rupture of the left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage," there is a small, yet significant chance that even after his ankle heals, the injury might hamper his golf swing. A study done in 1999 that looked at treatment for the most severe ruptures of the anterior talofibular ligament—known as a Grade III sprain—reported that up to 30 percent of patients suffered chronic symptoms from the injury. Those symptoms included synovitis, tendinitis, stiffness, swelling and pain. In short, the joint hurt and felt unstable long after the injury. It's also interesting to note that it didn't matter whether the patients reporting chronic problems underwent surgery or a more conservative approach to recovery. The study was conducted by Penn State University's department of orthopaedics at the Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center.
While you might like Rory's odds using the 30-percent statistic as a barometer, keep in mind that his acknowledgment of "capsule damage," makes it even more likely he'll have long-term issues from the injury. "A torn capsule heals with scar tissue that might become a constant source of irritation leading to chronic pain," says Golf Digest health advisor Dr. Ara Suppiah (@draraoncall). "It could ultimately lead to compensations from other parts of his body."
Suppiah predicts it will take roughly six weeks before Rory starts playing competitively, but that doesn't mean his ankle is going to feel great when he hits shots or walks 20 to 25 miles on uneven ground over four days of a tournament. It's going to be interesting to see how much power he can generate in his downswing. A key to Rory's swing is the amount of ground force he can create by pushing down with his left foot and then rotating around that ankle joint when he hits shots. Timing issues can also occur -- especially with a swing as precise as McIlroy's, Suppiah says. And one more thing to consider is Rory's vigorous off-course training program. Doing things like squats, box jumps, deadlifts and sprints all require stable ankles.
The good news for McIlroy is that the ATFL and the other two ligaments associated with lateral ankle sprains -- the calcaenofibular and the posterior talofibular -- are incredibly strong and durable. They take quite a beating over a lifetime and tend to heal well, albeit scar tissue around the joint can inflame them from time to time, Suppiah says.
While McIlroy's injury occurred playing soccer, it's a good reminder that golfers need to train the muscles and other soft tissue around the joint whenever they work out. With that in mind, we spoke with world-renowned strength-and-fitness expert Mark Verstegen (@TeamEXOS) and asked him for help with the ankle sprains. Click here for his advice
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.