Typically, high ankle sprains are caused by rotating or twisting the foot or by jamming the foot up into ankle joint, from a vicious tackle or a simple misstep. Although less common than low ankle sprains, they are usually more severe. Being sidelined by one is something no athlete wants.
In Part 1 of this series, I provided an overview and prognosis for high ankle sprains. In this Part 2, I discuss how to prevent them. As with any injury prevention program, the routine should be multi-faceted and implemented year-round. Use the following information and advice to perform at your peak throughout your career without worrying about an unnecessary injury.
Maintaining Ankle Mobility
Ankle mobility is important for proper change of direction movements, deceleration and landing, as well as for proper squat technique. Mobility is gained through:
Proprioception refers to the mind’s ability to sense the body’s position in space. Many ankle and foot problems start when the joint’s proprioceptive system is not properly corrected after an injury. This is important for sports; to be a great athlete requires understanding movement and body position—for example, a golfer changing hand position to hit a fade. How is this trained?
To collect data about movements and body positions, the proprioceptive system uses inputs from the eyes, receptors in the joints and a balance system in the inner ear. To improve proprioception, you must change some of these variables, for example by taking away vision or balancing on an unstable surface. Two simple ways to accomplish this: close your eyes and perform bodyweight squats on sand or a stability pad.
Balance can be considered dynamic proprioception, because it involves all of the sensory inputs mentioned above and combines them with athletic movement. Having good balance doesn’t just mean you don’t stumble. It means controlling your body, especially your core, when quickly changing direction, or staying upright after being pushed or hit by another player. More important, good balance means you can quickly recover and maintain an upright posture to continue an athletic movement. Balance can be improved dynamically by working on single-limb movements, especially plyometric drills like Single-Leg Lateral Hops. For a more controlled strengthening exercise that challenges balance, try the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift.
Stability and injury prevention go hand in hand, since stability generally means maintaining muscle strength around a joint. For the ankle, the muscles involved are the anterior tibialis, the gastric/soleus complex, the posterior tibialis and the peroneals. In layman’s terms, it means strengthening the ankle in all planes of movement.
The best way to improve stability for injury prevention is to perform strengthening activities barefooted. Try Barefoot Heel Walks and Toe Walks; and perform them forward, backward, sideways and with carioca. Gradually increase the pace, but not to the level of plyometrics if you’re on a hard surface. (Before you get started, read A Simple Solution for Better Barefoot Training.)
Killing the Kettlebell
The barefoot Kettlebell Swing is a great endurance, mobility and strengthening exercise all rolled into one. When performed in bare feet, it strengthens the small stabilizer muscles in the feet. The weight of the bell promotes strength gains, and performing higher reps trains the muscles to work while fatigued. (Read The Advantages of Kettlebell Training.)
Dragging the Sled
A high ankle sprain is a rotational injury, so it is important to train and strengthen the ankle in multiple planes. A great exercise for this is Lateral Sled Dragging with heavy resistance. A simpler version is the Monster X Band Walk laterally. All exercises can and should be performed with varying speeds and amounts of resistance.
Increasing Brute Strength
Effective injury prevention involves strengthening. For the ankle, there is nothing better than progressive resistance exercises through the Back Squat and the Deadlift.