Injuries to the ankle are among the most frequently occurring injuries that face athletes in nearly every sport. Ankle injuries can occur during running, jumping or even walking. Though ankle injuries can occur outside of sport, injuries happen most often when playing football, basketball, volleyball, tennis and soccer.
Ankle Sprain Treatment
Among all ankle injuries, those to the lateral aspect, or outside of the foot/ankle, seem to be the most common. With a lateral ankle sprain, pain and swelling often develop quickly. Below are some tips on how to care for this kind of ankle injury:
- Wrap with a compression wrap like an ACE bandage
- Elevate ankle above your heart to reduce pain and swelling
- Apply ice to help manage pain, but no longer than 15-20 minutes at a time
- Start range-of-motion exercises early to decrease down time
Ankle Taping and Bracing
Ankle taping or bracing was once viewed as a way to prevent ankle injuries, but the National Athletic Trainers Association recommends taping only be used when deemed appropriate by a sports medicine professional after an injury occurs. A quality ankle injury prevention program that includes flexibility, mobility, strength, balance and agility training has been shown to be the most effective way to reduce ankle injury rates.
Sports medicine professionals like physicians, athletic trainers or physical therapists can help make the appropriate recommendation for bracing or injury prevention programs based on individual needs. Moreover, it is important to the overall health and well-being of athletes and active individuals to undergo a comprehensive rehabilitation program after ankle injury to reduce the risk of further injury and recurrence of ankle problems.
Ankle Strengthening Tips
Here are a few basic guidelines for ankle and foot strengthening to prevent injury and promote a more active, healthy lifestyle:
1. Develop Joint Flexibility
Stretching the muscles in your ankle and foot is important for restoring full range of motion and preventing injury. You need full ankle and foot range of motion, long and flexible muscles before you perform strengthening exercises.
2. Strengthen Muscles
Challenge all motions of the ankle and foot by strengthening all the muscles that support your lower leg, foot and ankle. Target the following muscles that control movement in your feet:
- Gastrocnemius-soleus complex (the calf)
- Anterior tibialis (shin)
- Posterior tibialis (center of calf)
- Peroneus brevis and longus (outside of lower calf)
- Evertors (ankle)
This will help keep your ankle joint stable. Keeping these muscles strong can relieve foot and ankle pain and prevent further injury. Some ways to work on ankle and foot strengthening include heel raises, toe raises and resisted ankle movements in all directions.
3. Improve Balance
Good balance is important for stability, coordination and control with sporting activities. Balance is one of the first things that is lost after an injury. Beginning with single leg balance on a firm surface and progressing to a foam, or soft, surface for a period of time will help improve balance. Once those skills are mastered, an athlete could try and do these exercises with their eyes closed.
Maintaining Strength and Range of Motion
When you have restored all the motion and improved strength and balance in your ankle and foot, you are ready to begin dynamic conditioning and sporting activities such as running, cutting and biking.
Before doing the exercises mentioned above, you should warm up with five to 10 minutes of low-impact activity, like walking or riding a stationary bicycle. After warm-up, it’s always important to do a few stretching exercises before moving on to the strengthening exercises. When you have completed the strengthening exercises, repeat the stretching exercises to end your workout.
To maintain the health of your feet and lower legs, you should perform exercises two to three times per week. This will allow you to maintain strength and range of motion in your ankles and feet.