The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Tough Break: Derek Jeter’s Fractured Ankle

Posted by on Monday, October 15th, 2012

You just rolled your ankle. It really hurts and you ask yourself, “Did I just sprain it or could this be broken?” Well, here’s a good way to answer your own question: summon to mind the picture of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter lying on the grass at Yankee Stadium, unable to get up, then being helped off the field, left foot dangling above the ground.

As you may or may not have heard, early on Sunday morning, as the first playoff game between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers staggered into the 12th inning, Jeter rolled his left ankle sharply while trying to field a groundball hit by the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta. Every single player or staff member interviewed after the game said something to the effect of, “I knew something had to be broken when he didn’t get up.” Jeter has a reputation as an iron man, so if he could get up and stand on his ankle, he would have, despite the pain; he was already playing with bone bruises in his foot and his ankle.

And that’s the difference between a sprained ankle and a fractured one–with a sprained ankle, no matter how much it hurts, you can put some weight on it and take a few delicate steps. You can’t put any weight on a fractured ankle, though–try, and it won’t hold up. If that’s what happens when you try to take a step, you need to see a a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900  ). You should also get your ankle checked out by a podiatrist even if you decide that you have a sprain, not a fracture; if the pain is bad enough that you’re thinking “broken” then it probably is a severe enough sprain that you need professional care.

That’s because a fracture isn’t always worse than a sprain. Actually, many athletic trainers and sports medicine doctors would probably say that a fracture is easier to handle because bones heal more predictably. We know how long it takes for bones to mend and heal themselves, about six to eight weeks; when there is ligament damage, like a regular ankle sprain the healing process is hard to project, and can vary wildly. A high ankle sprain, like the one that kept New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez out for weeks, is particularly frustrating.

Reports after the game were that Jeter would be out three months and that the injury was not career threatening. There’s been some word that he may need surgery, but that’s not definite yet;  he’s being sent to a foot specialist in North Carolina this week to have it checked out some more. If a fracture is a clean break where the bones stayed in place, then surgery is not required. If pieces of bone have been displaced, then surgery will be necessary to put in pins or screws to hold the bone in place while it heals. It’s also possible that there may be ligament or tendon damage that needs to be repaired. This is all speculation right now, though. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what needs to be done until the initial swelling has gone down a bit.

According to SI’s Will Carroll, it looks like Jeter probably broke his tibia, the long strong shin bone. It’s unclear whether the bone bruises contributed to the injury, but they may have been causing him to favor his ankle and move differently, which then could have led to disaster. Jeter’s been given a recovery time of about twelve weeks; the additional time is probably due to physical therapy to help restore the side to side mobility and range that is more important for a shortstop than a pitcher. I know, defensive stat fans and UZR lovers, you’re saying, “What side to side mobility and range? Jeter lost that years ago!” To which I say a) give the guy a break today (not an ankle break) and b) as long as he isn’t kicking the ball around the infield in a Nunez-like manner, the Yankees aren’t replacing him so he needs whatever mobility he had.

It’s always bad to see the stars of a sport go down with an injury; it’s worse when it happens to you. Watch out when you’re trying to field a hard grounder in that softball game at the park!

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.