As a Certified Athletic Trainer the most prevalent injury I see among athletes are ankle injuries which isn’t surprising seeing as there are an estimated 25,000 ankle injuries in the U.S every day. While athletes spend significant time on training to improve strength and agility, they really never think about training their ankle to do the same. By improving ankle proprioception (balance) and muscle strength you may be able to prevent an ankle injury, or at lease lessen the severity should an injury occur.
The most effective ankle strengthening exercises can be done with an inexpensive piece of resistance band (such as Thera-Band) you can purchase from any pharmacy. Resistance bands are like big rubber bands and come in various stretch characteristics such as ‘beginner’ or ‘intermediate.’ Youth athletes should be fine starting with a beginner band, while more advanced and older athletes can begin by using the ‘intermediate’ band.
Below is an example of an ankle strengthening exercise that you can perform at home. For the following you can perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions for each motion.
- While sitting on the floor, place one end of the band around the top of the foot and hold the other end
- Rotate or curl your foot inward for 20 repetitions
- Rotate or curl your foot outward for 20 repetitions
- Point your toes downward, or away from you for 20 repetitions
- Connect one end of the band around a chair leg and the other end around the top of your foot and pull your toes upward or toward you for 20 repetitions
Balance, also know as proprioception to us athletic trainers, exercises are simple but the key is to make sure you complete them every day. Start out with the balance moves below and then as you improve, reach out to your sports medicine professional or athletic trainer for additional exercises.
- On a flat floor stand on one leg for 30 secondsProgress to standing on one leg and have someone throw you a ball
- Have them throw it high, low, left and right
- Progress beyond 30 seconds as you achieve better balance, holding as long as you can up to 90 seconds on each leg
- Switch legs and repeat
- With one leg out in front perform a mini-squat for 10 reps. (A mini-squat would be defined as bending the knee 45º as opposed to doing a complete squat.)
- 10 reps of the same exercise with your opposite leg to the side of your squatting leg
- 10 reps of the same exercise with your opposite leg positioned behind your squatting leg
- Switch legs and repeat. You will find these exercises to be a bit challenging so try to make 10 reps each and work your way up to a max of 25 reps for each step per leg.
While ankle strengthening and proprioception exercises are a great way to help prevent ankle injuries, unfortunately they will still occur. For example, no amount of joint strength can protect your ankle from rolling if you come down on another player’s foot after a rebound. This can be especially problematic if you have a history of ankle injuries, as studies show that you are 70% more likely to re-sprain your ankle after initially spraining it. Once ligaments stretch, they stay stretched, making your ankle loose, unstable, and prone to chronic ankle instability
Many times the best way to prevent ankle injuries while maintaining high levels of athletic performance is to wear a preventative, hinged ankle brace that allows for full range of motion. Any device that restricts your normal joint range of motion, such as a lace-up ankle brace, can lead to weakening of the ankle joint and restriction of high-level performance – which is the opposite of what bracing should help accomplish.
If you’d like more information on how to diagnose, treat, and prevent ankle injuries (including additional rehab exercises) click here to download our free guide now: The Parent’s Guide to Ankle Injuries & Ankle Bracing.
For those of you with more specific ankle injury prevention or ankle bracing question, feel free to send a quick message to myself or one of our certified athletic trainers and we’d be happy to talk through your situation with you!