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Ankle injuries are the most common of all sports injuries. A simple misstep can cause a rolled ankle and land you on the bench. Athletes who play sports like basketball, football and soccer—which require frequent starting, stopping, and changes of direction—are especially susceptible to sprained ankles. (Find out how Dwyane Wade prevents ankle injuries.)
An injury occurs when the foot lands on uneven ground and the force of decelerating or changing direction exceeds the strength of your ankle support. The foot rolls inward, stretching or tearing ligaments around the joint. (Learn more about ankle injuries.)
Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to reduce your chance of sustaining an ankle sprain.
There are prehab exercises you can do to improve ankle strength and stability. It's impossible to prevent every ankle injury, but you can certainly reduce your risk of rolling an ankle.
Most of the athletes who train at my facility do Calf Raises. I like them not only for building the calf muscles, but also for strengthening the muscles and connective tissue around the foot and ankle. We do four different variations of calf raises, all on a calf block:
- Pauses: 3x15 (1-2 second pause at top, 2-5 second pause at bottom)
- Single-Leg: 3x15 each leg
- Rapid Pace: 3x25
- Isometric: 3x30 seconds (hold top position for specified time)
Balance training has been shown to reduce the incidence of ankle injuries in athletes by as much as 40 percent. We do balance training in socks and use an Airex Balance Pad to create an unstable surface, which strengthens stabilizing muscle and ligaments.
Perform the Single-Leg Balance with Airex Pad two to three times each week during your warm-up.
- Stand on an Airex Pad with one foot (elevate the other foot)
- Keep your arms close to your sides; do not use them for balance
- Hold position for specified time
- 1x60 seconds each leg (progress to 2-3 minutes)
Strength and balance training are important components of the rehab process. In addition to the exercises above, range of motion exercises—such as pointing the toes, dorsiflexing the foot and ankle circles—are critical for regaining full ankle function.
If you have suffered a sprain, picking up items with your toes is a good rehab exercise. Try repeatedly picking up a small towel with your toes. Or try picking up 50 marbles with your toes and dropping them one by one into an empty margarine container.
Finally, stretching exercises are beneficial following an ankle injury. When you can do so without pain, stretch your Achilles tendon by sitting with your legs extended and gently pulling a towel wrapped around the balls of your feet toward you (dorsiflexion). Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, rest and repeat twice. (See other ways to improve ankle mobility.)
Remember, always consult your physician or physical therapist before beginning any rehab program.