Braces and Crutches–when do they help and when do they get in the way?

My son hurt his ankle playing basketball last Thursday at his friend’s house after school.  My wife got the call and she took him to get it x-rayed.  The doctor at the MedExpress ruled out a fracture and diagnosed it as a high ankle sprain.  He was asked to see an orthopedic surgeon.  My son was very upset as he was ready to enjoy some sports after the very long winter we had endured and also earn some money caddying.  I tried to console him and asked him to focus all his energies on healing his injury so that he could start using it soon.

Thanks to knowing an orthopedic surgeon, we got an appointment the following day to get his ankle checked out.  While we were waiting for the doctor, my son and I were talking about ankle braces and how he may want to use one while playing in order to prevent injuries in the future.

Soon after the orthopedic technician got all the details, the young doctor came into the room and began to examine my son’s ankle.   She was very thorough and confident and explained everything in detail using language that we could understand.  She told us that he did not have a high-ankle sprain, which was good news and shared that he had torn a ligament and that he would wear a boot for two weeks and then wear a brace for two more. She even asked that he use the crutches as sparingly as possible and start putting weight on his foot as soon as he was able.

heart_in_crutches_400_clr_13175My epiphany came when I asked her if he should wear a brace going forward to  prevent future ankle injuries.  Her answer not only opened my eyes to my fearful way of  thinking but also to the many ways we as parents deal with raising our children.

She said, “Dad, our goal is to strengthen his ankle once it heals with exercises and physiotherapy.  While he will wear a brace during the healing process, I do not recommend it long term as it will prevent his ankle from getting stronger.”  She reminded us that he may not have his brace handy all the time when he is in college or at a friend’s place and will put himself in a compromised situation if we did not focus on building the muscles up.  It was a huge ‘aha’ for me.

I was immediately reminded of the myriad of ways so many of us protect or attempt to protect our children from harm and in the process can end up preventing them from learning some key skills such as resiliency.  Most parents don’t like to see their children suffer or endure any pain.  It is really our own inability to deal with these emotions that we want to prevent the situations from happening.  A few years ago, I distinctly remember asking my wife, “Do you want our children to fall down while they are still home and have us around to help them if they need a hand to get up or would you like them to fall in college when most of the people around them are their own age and maturity level?”

Even though I was aware of it a few years ago, I succumbed to the fear of our son getting injured again by thinking that he should wear ankle braces when he played basketball again.  Avoidance cannot be a healthy strategy for life; cultivating resilience is.

For all the loving mother’s out there, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Up Next: To Worry or Not to Worry?