So you have just sprained your ankle and are looking for a way to get back onto the court. Or you are person #2 and are looking for ways to avoid suffering the same “kankly” fate as person #1. Regardless of whom you are, the strengthening of your ankle will have a huge impact on how quickly you can return to play and stay there. This article will show you many techniques to strengthen the ankle.
Along with some strengthening exercises, I will also inform you of some other pertinent information. This information will include: predisposing risk factors for ankle injury, proper footwear, and external support (tape, braces, etc.).
Understand, however, that if you have suffered an ankle injury, it is important to have it evaluated. An ankle sprain may not always be just a sprain. If it is severe enough, it may have caused another injury such as an avulsion fracture (where a piece of the bone is broken off) among other injuries. So before you continue reading this article, get evaluated by your athletic trainer! By performing certain exercises before you are ready, you may do more harm than good, which will only delay your return to the court.
With that said, let’s get started!
Predisposing Risk Factors for Ankle Injury
– Previous ankle sprain1,2
– Decreased dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM)1
– Increased arch height1
– Decreased proprioception2
– Decreased muscle strength and coordination2
– Weak abducting hip musculature1,3
Don’t be frightened by the medical terminology, I will explain. As discussed in Acute Sprained Ankle Treatment, as many as 70% of ankle sprains are re-injured.4 This does not have to be your fate however, work hard to rehabilitate your ankle and reduce the risk! Next, flex your ankle so your toes are raised off the ground towards your head – you just performed dorsiflexion of the ankle. If this range of motion is limited, you may be at risk. To increase this range, simply stretch your calves and Achilles tendon regularly. Some people have excessively high arches which are more often than not, genetic. If this is you, consult your athletic trainer or a podiatrist (foot doctor) to possibly have some individualized orthotics created.
With any injury, proprioception is affected. Simply put, proprioception is the body’s awareness of itself in space. When running, you aren’t constantly looking down at your feet to know where they are stepping, instead, nerves within the joints send information to your brain to “show” you where your feet are. This system is damaged with injury, but you can train it with balance exercises. Next, if you have weak muscles or lack of coordination, you have less control on your ankle which may allow it to give way. Finally, weak hip abductors. If you were to stand and move your leg sideways, away from the centerline of your body, you would be utilizing your abducting muscles.
Research has shown that with a previous ankle injury, your hip abductors, most notably your gluteus medius is weakened.1,3 “But how do hip muscles affect my ankle,” you ask? It’s called the kinetic chain. Problems at one body part can have a significant impact on another. In this case, if your hip is weak, then your normal walking and running pattern becomes abnormal. The hip helps determine where the foot is placed and if not placed properly, could be subject to a sprain.3