How Do You Prevent Ankle Sprains?
Ankle sprains are the most common sporting injury. They are particularly common in sports involving rapid change of direction movements, such as basketball, netball and football.
How Do They Happen?
Ankle sprains occur when the ankle rolls inwards (occasionally outwards) to an extent that puts excessive load through and damages structures which resist this movement. This may occur with changing direction while running, landing awkwardly from jumping, stepping on another players foot or having your foot get caught in a tackle.
How Bad Can They Be?
There can be great variation in the severity of an ankle sprain injury. While we normally think of an ankle sprain being a ligament injury, other structures such as bones, articular cartilage, muscles, tendons and the joint capsule may also be affected.This means they can range from minor low grade ligament sprains that may not require any time off sport, through to serious fractures and dislocations that may require surgery.
So How Do I Prevent Them?
There are a number of strategies that will help to reduce your risk of ankle sprains.
Taping / Bracing: If you've suffered recurrent ankle sprains then stability taping or the use of an ankle brace are recommended to reduce the risk of re-injury. A number of studies have found that these two methods are equally as effective at reducing rates of re-injury, so it comes down to personal preference. It's not recommended that you tape or brace your ankles if you haven't previously injured your ankle.
Proprioception / Balance Training: Exercises to improve your awareness of your ankle position and movement help to reduce the likelihood of spraining your ankle. A systematic review of studies found that proprioceptive training reduces the risk of ankle sprains by about a third. A recent study on the implementation of intense proprioceptive training on a professional basketball team found that rates of ankle sprains were reduced by about 75%, while the rates of wearing taping or braces was reduced by two thirds.
Mobility and Flexibility: A lack of mobility of your ankle joint can contribute to your risk of ankle sprains. Muscle stretches and range of mobility exercises can help to maintain adequate movement in your ankle if you're ankle is stiff, whether that's following a previous injury or you're just naturally hypomobile.
Preparation: Factors such as dehydration and fatigue can impair function to the extent that they increase your risk of injury. Ensuring that you have adequate levels of hydration and physical fitness for the level of sport that you're playing helps to reduce your risk of all acute injuries, including ankle sprains.
What Do I Do If I Sprain My Ankle?
Good acute injury management is key to ensuring a full and speedy recovery. Relative rest from aggravating activities, applying ice every few hours, applying compression and elevating the ankle slightly above the level of the heart help to reduce pain and inflammation.
Having a physiotherapist assess and help treat the ankle within the first few days will help aid the recovery, and also rule out any more major injuries. As your ankle recovers, your physio will be able to guide you through exercises designed to reduce your risk of re-injury.