A high school basketball player is playing for the first time in weeks after spraining his ankle in practice. She spent hours working with her athletic trainer, doing everything she could so she could play again—ice, crutches, taping, and practice, practice, and more practice. She is happy to finally be back to play. However, in her first game back, she jumped and landed on her opponent's foot, grabbing her ankle again and falling onto the field. This athlete is not alone, as ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries not only in basketball players but also in football, volleyball and soccer players.
Basically, a sprain is an overstretched, partial or complete tear of the ligaments, the tissues that hold bones together. As a physical therapy student and sports enthusiast, I've been asked more than once about ways athletes and their families, as well as my own friends and family, prevent ankle sprains. I've watched frustrated athletes deal with ankle sprains after they've sprained them. These athletes and their parents are asking the same question - is there any way to prevent this from happening again? Should he wear ankle braces or straps? To prevent these incidents, should she wear some type of shoes on or on the court? Are there specific exercises he should do and how long must he do them?
Well, I wish I had magic, guaranteed to work, straight-forward answers. If I did, I might travel the world and retire at 25. A lot of research has been done on ankle sprains in athletes over the years, but many of the findings do not give definitive answers to these questions. But let's take a look:
Ankle brace. Should an athlete wear one on the injured side when returning to play?
In general, it may be a good idea to put some sort of brace on your injured ankle when returning to sports. In some studies, basketball and soccer players who wore lace-up braces suffered significantly fewer ankle sprains than those who did not, however, the severity of ankle sprains did not depend on whether the brace was worn. Another study showed that semi-rigid braces also reduced the frequency of ankle injuries in basketball, but again not the severity. Additionally, football players with a history of sprained ankles wearing stirrups were less likely to re-sprain their ankles than players without stirrups.
What to do with tied ankles? Is this more effective than wearing a brace?
Binding the ankle also appears to help avoid ankle sprains; however, the evidence is murky as to whether tape or braces are more effective. A review of several studies found that the use of ankle braces and ankle tape reduced the frequency of ankle sprains in athletes by 69% and 71%, respectively. So, if you've sprained your ankle and you're returning to sports, it might be a good idea to tape it or wear a brace, at least temporarily.
Are there certain shoes that seem to help prevent ankle sprains?
Not really. One might think that wearing high-top shoes is better at preventing ankle sprains than wearing low-top shoes, but there is no research to support this. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether air pockets in the heel can cause ankle sprains. When shopping for shoes, I recommend trying on different shoes, spending a little time walking or running if possible, and buying the one you feel most comfortable with and which fits you best.
What kind of exercise should I do after an ankle sprain?
Gentle range of motion, stretching, and strengthening exercises are the focus of a combination of elevation, compression, and ice shortly after an ankle sprain. However, as the athlete walks further from the injury and is better able to walk on the ankle, exercises that challenge his or her balance should become the focus. For example, standing on one leg is a great balance exercise that can be added to the challenge by standing on a pillow, closing your eyes, or tossing the ball back and forth with a teammate. My personal favorite is the occasional nudge on the shoulder of the athlete while he is standing on one leg. It is also advantageous to use a device such as a balance plate or a rocking plate. The athlete can then perform jumping exercises. For example, jump forward, backward and side to side with one foot, and jump diagonally. Different variations of lunges and box jumps can also be used for rehabilitation. It is also important to incorporate agility and sport-specific training into the later stages of rehab, such as cutting, turning, shuffling, and running backwards.
When Can I Stop Ankle Rehabilitation Exercises?
Probably never. Yes, you may not be very satisfied with this answer. There is research showing that people can still exhibit instability with a sprained ankle even three years after the injury. Really, in my opinion, I think balance exercises that challenge the ligaments and stabilize the ankle structure should be a routine for almost every athlete Regular part of your workout. The good news is that simply by participating in sports, athletes can challenge their ankles in a variety of ways to make them stronger and more stable—jumping up for rebounds, running on grass, cutting open passes—all of these movements. It will challenge the ankle in itself. However, that doesn't mean that just practicing or participating in a competition or competition is enough, especially if the athlete is wearing a brace or taping his or her ankle. Taking the time to do balance exercises to increase ankle stability can reveal weaknesses or asymmetries that may not be addressed in everyday play.
Well, you have it. Hope this helps answer some questions. Like I said, in most cases the answer is not entirely clear. Perhaps future research will provide clearer information. In the meantime, enjoy these balance exercises!