An estimated 25,000 Americans suffer from an ankle sprain each day according to research from the American College of Sports Medicine.
Although many times these sprains occur during athletics, ankle sprains can also occur during daily activities like walking across a lawn and going up or down stairs. The recovery time for majority of ankle sprains is 4-8 weeks, but tissue remodeling and nerve deficits can be detected for up to 1 year post-injury.1 Often, these sprains require medical attention and can benefit from physical therapy to promote tissue healing, restore joint biomechanics, strength and balance.
How do you prevent the dreaded ankle sprain, so you can mow your lawn and walk through the house without ruining your weekend? Check out the six tips highlighted below:
One way to avoid ankle sprains is to improve your balance. In order to do so, you should understand how balance works within your body.
For starters, your sight impacts balance because your body moves based on anticipation, experience and expectations from what it sees. Without your eyes, your body uses its ability to sense where you are in space, which is called proprioception. There are 45 miles of nervous tissue running throughout your body.2 These nerves also help you maintain balance. For example, the nerves in your foot and ankle help you sense the surface you’re walking, running or jumping on. Your third sense of balance is something called the vestibular system, which is the work of the inner ear telling you you’re moving, spinning, falling or some other change in body position. You are likely in good shape when all three of these balance systems are working together.
Fortunately there are ways to improve your balance, which can help prevent injuries. One way to do this is by practicing balancing on one foot when brushing your teeth or performing light upper body exercise. The nerves in your foot and ankle will continue to adjust and train the surrounding muscles in your ankle/leg/hip and even lumbar stabilizers to activate and control your movements. Physical therapy can also help to improve more serious balance issues and/or vestibular conditions.
The strength and function of your hips and trunk is important to how you move. Imagine running lightly and abruptly changing direction. If you lack strength in your core, your body will likely keep moving due to an absence of hip control. With your body weight pushing past what your foot and ankle can control, the end result could be a rolled ankle and/or fall. This is why it is important to pay attention to hip and abdominal/back strengthening during workouts.
Building up ankle strength is a great preventative technique. This can be done with single leg strengthening exercises like squats, lunges, dips and rubber band strengthening workouts. A stronger base will make it easier to stay on your feet and control change in body position.
A balance between strength and flexibility is important. Simple stretching for 30-60 seconds after a light warm-up can help relieve discomfort and promote adequate mobility of the lower leg. Ligament or joint hypermobility is a symptom of an ankle sprain, so stretching should be performed carefully and comfortably.
It is not a good idea to hike several miles out of the blue without preparing your body. If you know you have a new sports season or activity coming up, it is a good idea to get your body ready. This doesn’t mean full body training, but rather getting into the habit of regular exercise and mimicking your desired activity. Since muscle memory is a factor in ankle sprains, practicing the movement or sport you are participating in can help prevent injury.3
Don’t hesitate to use a brace or tape your ankle in order to prevent injury. This could be the difference in maintaining health, as braces and taping add support. What’s more, bracing promotes feedback to your body to so you respect the ankle when performing your desired activity.4
Overall, the role of the ankle is to adapt to variable ground interactions and provide the leg an advantage when walking great distances. Ankle sprains can happen to people of all ages, but is most common in the teenage years to mid-30s and can be recurrent throughout life. In one study, more than 70 percent of people with ankle sprains reported having issues 18 months out from injury.5 If you are struggling with an ankle sprain, visit an Athletico clinic near you for a complimentary injury screening to help determine course of action.
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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Peterson W, Volker Remitzki I, Gosele Koppenburg A, Ellermann A, Liebau C, Peter Bruggermann G, Best R. Treatment of acute ankle ligament injuries: A systematic review. Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery. 2013 Aug; 133(8); 1129-1141.
2. Louw A, Zimney K, O’Hotto C, Hilton S. The clinical application of teaching people about pain. Physiotherapy and Practice. An international Journal of Physical Therapy. 2016; 32 (5): 385-395.
3. Mattacola C, Dwyer M. Rehabilitation of the Ankle After Acute Sprain or Chronic Instability. Journal of Athletic Training. 2002 Oct-Dec; 37(4); 413-429.
4. Jerosch J, Hoffstetter I, Bork H, Bischof M. The influence of orthoses on the proprioception of the ankle joint. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 1995;3:39–46.
5. Braun BL. Effects of ankle sprain in a general clinic population 6 to 18 months after medical evaluation. Archives of Family Medicine. 1999;8: 143–8.