How to Prevent a Sprained Ankle
1. Mobility: Ensure you have full mobility of your ankle and surrounding joints before returning to running or sports. Often individuals return to their recreational pursuits with a stiff ankle and end up with other injuries as a result. Ensure that you are able to fully dorsiflex (toes towards you) and plantarflex (toes away from you) your ankle while in a weight bearing position.
A stiff ankle that is limited into dorsiflexion does allow your body to get low and perform cutting, twisting or absorb landings efficiently. The knee joint above the ankle or opposite leg often end up taking on these extra forces and become prone to overload injuries. One way to measure weight-bearing dorsiflexion is to see how far you get your foot away from the wall and be able to touch your knee to the wall without your heel coming up. Compare that distance with your unaffected side, they should be equal.
For plantar flexion you should be able to come up on your toes and flatten out through the front of your ankles equally on both sides. An ankle that has full plantar flexion is able to achieve maximal push-off which allows for maximal height in jumping or speed in sprinting.
2. Ankle Strengthening: By ensuring that all the muscles surrounding your ankle are strong, minimizes your chance of ‘rolling’ your ankle. The outer muscles or "everters" are very important in preventing the most common ankle injury, also know as an inversion sprain from occurring. These muscles can be strengthened with various theraband exercises or functional drills that target this group.
3. Balance Drills: Focusing on balance or proprioceptive drills trains your ankle, with respect to the joints above and below it, how to adjust quickly to a changing environment. After damaging the ligament(s) in your ankle, your body needs to relearn how to adapt to and minimize the effects caused by uneven surfaces, twisting, or decelerating forces. Start easy with drills such as single leg balance with shoes on passing a ball to a wall or by closing your eyes. Progress to harder drills such as being barefoot on a tilt board performing multidirectional passing. Very high level drills could involve jumping and landing onto an uneven surface on a single leg.
4. Taping and Bracing: Often in the initial stages of returning to sport we may be nervous about spraining our ankles again, especially if this has been a recurring problem. Taping or bracing can be used as a means of allowing athletes to return to sport in a safe manner. The amount of time that these are used for is very dependent on the severity of the injury, type of sport and discretion of the treating professional.
5. Functional Drills: These are a critical component of the rehab process and necessary for any athlete returning to multidirectional sport. These drills are often based on the individual’s type of sport as well as the position they play. Generally functional drills progress from offensive-type drills, where the athlete controls the movement or direction of play into more difficult defensive drills wherein quick reactive-type movements are required. These drills will incorporate agility, speed, balance, proprioception and functional strength to ensure that the athlete’s ankle is ready to withstand all of the forces that his or her sport demands.
Of course, sometimes accidents happen. If you followed these steps but couldn't prevent a sprained ankle, we're here to support you and your injury. Book an appointment with us today.
Karen Nichol, founder of Royal City Physio, graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science in Physiotherapy. She is currently the head physiotherapist for Coquitlam Adanac Sr A's and head physiotherapist for the Police Academy at The Justice Institute of B.C. She is also a member of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, and the Physiotherapy Association of B.C. Book with Karen today.