The ankle is a common site of injury in pretty much every sport. Nearly everyone you have met has had an ankle injury at some point in their life. The biggest risk factor of an athlete injuring their ankle is if they had a previous ankle injury. Now considering that most of us have injured our ankles as kids riding skateboards or just rolling it while playing with friends, it is important to do all you can to prevent a future ankle injury.
The ankle is a very important yet often over looked joint, until it is injured. Ankle flexibility is the biggest predictor of lower body injuries. Most people have probably been to the physio and they have done the test where you try to touch your knee to the wall, keeping the heel on the ground, and seeing how far back you can get your foot from the wall. More often than not you were told your range isn’t good enough. Having poor range of motion in the ankle will also affect your squat depth and technique which can further increase you risk of injury.
An Aussie study found that if an athlete injures an ankle, they are 5 times more likely to injure that ankle again. Carrying an ankle injury into games can be very frustrating and you notice how having weakness in this area can negatively affect performance. With weakness in the ankle it is hard to cut from side to side and change direction as quickly as normal which makes it hard to beat defenders or change direction if someone is trying to evade you. You are also unable to absorb force during landings as well as you normally could if you have weakness in the lower leg. This increases stress on the other joints and increases your risk of injuring other body parts.
An interesting thing to note is that other than non-weight bearing sports like swimming, weightlifting is a sport with the fewest ankle injuries. This is put down to shoe design, with weightlifting shoes being rigid, they keep the ankle and foot bones aligned which helps keep the knees in proper alignment when squatting. It is important to wear the correct shoe for your sport. For example, netball is a sport with a lot of ankle injuries. If they were to wear a running shoe they would likely increase their risk of ankle injury whereas a cross-trainer type shoe that is designed for multiple movement patterns would be a better choice.
Strapping tape or wearing a brace is often used to reduce the risk of an ankle injury. Personally I used to strap my ankles during games after I had suffered a couple of ankle injuries. While this gave me confidence that I wouldn’t hurt the ankle again, I felt it put more strain on my groin. Knowing more now, it makes sense as restricting range of motion at the ankle has been shown to transfer the stress to the knee and hip. My feeling towards strapping is that if you feel you have to use it to have a clear head going into a game then do it, but try not to use it at training every day if you don’t have to.
To reduce the risk of an ankle injury I would definitely look at correcting the feet. If you are applying uneven pressure into the ground your posture will be affected and you will also be losing strength. By correcting the foot we can increase your strength by 5% in a single session. The feet are the base of support and the skin of the foot actually plays an important role in controlling balance and activating muscular chains by sending signals to the brain.
Another overlooked thing you can do to prevent an ankle injury is to perform seated calf raises and also work the tibialis anterior which is a muscle at the front of the lower leg. The seated calf raise helps stabilize the ankle as it works the soleus, the lower calf muscle, which helps lift the heel when the knee is bent. The gastrocnemius gets worked a lot more from jumping, running, and bounding so I don’t often use any standing calf exercises early on. Working the tibialis anterior can also help prevent shin splints so it can be a valuable exercise at times.
Getting some soft tissue work done on the calf muscles is also important as a build-up of adhesions can prevent you from getting a good stretch.
I don’t do much work on unstable surfaces with my athletes. If I do, it is to determine any structural imbalances, or I may do a little bit of work on a wobble board or rocker board in the very early stages of the general preparation period for a week or two if the athlete requires it.
As with everything you have to know what your limiting factor is. If you want to know what yours is feel free to come in and get an assessment done.