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Ankle Sprain Recovery & Prevention

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

We made it! Summertime! Hopefully full of vacation time, beach or boat days, baseball, cookouts, early sunrises and late sunsets…I’ll stop there. You know what it can also be full of? Ankle sprains. Maybe you tripped in your flip-flop, maybe it was that layup at pickup basketball after work, or maybe it was the one slippery rock you came across hiking with the family over the weekend. Whether you’re recovering from rolling your ankle or thinking ahead about prevention, this post is for you.

For a little background info, let’s cover some basics of ankle anatomy (Dr. Lauren loves anatomy).

  • Our ankle is really technically 2 joints made up of 4 bones, which work together to allow for 6 different kinds of motion to occur

  • This is why after an ankle injury, pretty much any healthcare provider (whether that is Dr. Google or your PCP) will recommend you do some ankle pumps or write the alphabet in the air - so that you work through all of those movements

  • It is more likely you’ll sprain your ankle by rolling it in, vs. rolling it out. This has to do with the length and position of our bones as well as the surrounding ligaments.

    • Which ligament(s) you sprain depends on specifically how the ankle rolled or twisted since they each are responsible for stabilizing different directions

    • The anterior talofibular ligament aka the ATFL - is the most commonly injured

  • Any time we talk about strains/sprains, we are thinking in “grades” to help us classify how severe an injury is. When grading ligament injuries, we are thinking about:

    • How much of a tear is there? Is it a tiny microtear or a complete rupture?

    • How tender, swollen, or bruised are you?

    • Compared to other people or to your other side, does your ankle feel “loose” or pretty much the same?

Here at Core PT & Performance, we are huge advocates of movement and treating the whole person. Rehabbing or prehabbing your ankle is so much more than just working on your ankle, doing ankle alphabets, and band resisted movements (the same goes for everywhere else in the body!). You’ll notice I’ve incorporated hip strengthening with many of these exercises - people with repeated sprains/chronic instability have been shown to have decreased hip strength - it’s all connected! Check out the exercises below to take your strengthening up a notch! If possible, do all of these barefoot.

Toe yoga

Yes this is a repeat from last month’s blog, but toe yoga is great for so many reasons! Many of the muscles we use with this series help to reinforce the ankle. Three exercises in one here - try each one at least 10 times before moving on to the next!

  • Lift JUST your big toe off the ground. Try not to let your other toes lift up or curl. This is hard! Use your fingers to help lift the toe or keep the other toes down if you need to as you get started

  • Lift everything EXCEPT the big toe off the ground. Same rules as above

  • Lift all your toes up together (finally!), spread them apart as far as you can, and reach for as much floor as possible. Let’s see how much space you can get between your toes!

Standing hydrant balancing

  • Place a light-medium resistance band around the level of your knees

  • Stand on 1 foot and balance (no hands!), then stretch the band out to the side (about 12 inches) using your opposite leg/hip

  • Repeat 15 times, then switch sides

Side Stepping Figure 8

  • Place a light resistance band below the ankles near your arches. Twist it so that it looks like a figure 8. This will pull your ankles in slightly to help engage the muscles on the outside of shins a bit more

  • Slightly bend your knees, keep tension on the band, step to the side 20 times and then switch directions

Tandem Marching

  • In a SLOW and controlled manner, march forward like you are walking on a tightrope. This will challenge your balance both by keeping your base of support small, and also by making you balance on 1 foot each time you march

  • If you’re feeling really ambitious, hold a weight on one side to engage your core and glutes even more!

  • Repeat for 30 seconds…30 feet…until you run out of space! If holding a weight, switch sides!

Y Balance

  • This is technically a test of dynamic balance that can be used when calculating injury risk in athletes…so why not make it into an exercise!

  • Mark a point directly in front of you, one diagonally to the back left, and another diagonally to the back right (think about the letter Y). We often use athletic tape or cones as markers for the Y

  • Stand in the middle of the Y on one 1 foot. Keep all your weight on the one leg, and with your other leg reach as far as you can toward one end of the Y, come back to center, then reach for another point. Repeat until you hit all points. Try at least 5 full cycles before switching sides! You’ll probably notice some directions are easier than others!

Stay tuned for next month’s blog post on the latest and greatest guidelines on what to do immediately following injury! (Hint: it’s not RICE!)


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