With basketball season in full swing and winter weather affecting large areas of the country, it’s peak season for ankle sprains, one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in the U.S. And yet physical therapists point out that incidents of ankle sprains can be minimized through simple strength, balance and flexibility exercises.
“A sprain occurs when your ankle is forced to move out of its normal position, which can cause one or more of the ankle’s ligaments to stretch, partially tear or tear completely,” states the Mayo Clinic on its website. “Causes of a sprained ankle might include a fall that causes your ankle to twist, landing awkwardly on your foot after jumping or pivoting, or walking or exercising on an uneven surface.”
If you’ve ever had a sprained ankle (there are a lot of you), you’re in good company.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), 25,000 people suffer ankle sprains every day in the U.S. That’s around 9 million ankle sprains each year, accounting for nearly half of all sports injuries. One study found that ankle sprains account for nearly one-third of all reported sports injuries, with 41 percent of these injuries related to basketball – from awkward landings, oftentimes on a player’s foot.
About three out of four ankle sprains are the classic rolled ankles, or inward “inversion sprains.” Such injuries vary in grade, based on the extent of injury to the ligament, leading to pain, swelling, weakness and instability.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), consulting a physical therapist after injuring or spraining an ankle can speed up recovery time.
“Physical therapists help people with ankle sprains recover more quickly than they would without treatment,” noted the APTA. “The time it takes to heal an ankle sprain varies, but results can often be achieved in 2 to 8 weeks, Your physical therapist will work with you to design a specific treatment program that meets your needs and goals.”
A physical therapist can also create a program that will help prevent future ankle sprains – or your first ankle sprain, if your lifestyle or choice of sport may increase your chances of the injury. A preventative regiment will include training in:
Strength: Weak muscles around the ankle joint, specifically those on the outside of the ankle, can make you more susceptible to an ankle sprain. While a physical therapist can provide a customized strength program specifically for your ankle, a simple exercise you can perform at home is this: While sitting, wrap a towel around your foot for resistance as you move your foot up and down, left and right.
Balance: Proprioception is your body’s ability to sense itself relative to neighboring body parts. Low proprioception in your ankle can affect your balance and, hence, your ability to prevent ankle sprains. To get a sense of this, stand one leg and hold. Close your eyes (within reach of a wall, chair or countertop for balance) for a greater challenge. Do this once for a sense of balance; do it daily on each leg – and hold – to improve your balance over time.
Flexibility: Tightness and movement limitations up your legs and into your hips and torso can affect the stability of your ankles. It’s true! So remaining flexible and mobile not just in your ankle, but throughout your body, can dramatically improve functional and athletic performance, while decreasing the chance of ankle sprains.
If you have experienced an ankle sprain, ice and rest are important immediate steps to take. But also consult your physical therapist, which can often help diagnose your condition (sometimes consulting with an orthopedic specialist or other health care provider), who can work to put you on track to a speedy recover.