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Ankle sprains are the most common injuries in sports. A simple misstep can damage your joint and land you on the sideline. Fortunately, you can actively prevent ankle injuries with a mobility, stability and strength program.
Before going into a training program, it's important to understand the anatomy of the foot and the structure of the ankle joint.
The ankle is an extremely mobile joint, supported by muscles, tendons and ligaments. Seven muscles extend the ankle, four flex the ankle and four support the inside and outside of the joint. However, mobility comes at the cost of stability.
The most common type of ankle sprain is when the foot rolls inward. This is called an inversion sprain. The ankle is primed for a sprain when the toes are down and foot is pointed inwards. The problem is that the ankle is designed to move easily into this position. So, you have to train to counteract it by strengthening muscle groups that oppose this movement.
To prevent ankle sprains, you must improve mobility by reducing tightness and stiffness on the inside of the calf. Vigorously perform self-myofascial release (similar to massage) with a stick, foam roller or tennis ball.
The next step is to increase single-leg joint stability. Perform exercises that involve standing on one leg and reaching the other leg behind the body or sideways to activate the lateral calf muscle, which is an important ankle stabilizer.
The last drill is Toe Walks. Simply walk on your toes—specifically your big toes. This alignment activates the lateral part of the calf and teaches the ankle to load the big toe (and not the pinky toe). If the force is on the outside part of the foot, it's more likely to roll.
Typically these drills are performed only after an athlete injures an ankle and is preparing to return to competition. My suggestion is to perform them as part of a warm-up, rest station or cool-down—before an injury occurs. The greatest predictor of injury is previous injury. Make sure to prevent the first one.
Photo: Chris Turner Photography on Flickr