Ankle sprains: Trail runners get them, soccer players hate them, and b-ballers suffer them frequently. Chances are high that if you’re an athlete, you’ve had one or two in the past yourself. The most common type of ankle sprain is an inversion sprain, in which the foot rolls inward and ligaments of the lateral ankle are injured.
If you’ve got a fresh sprain, the best advice has always been RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. However, if you’re eager to have less pain and return to activity quicker, research shows that you should add early mobilization to that list.
Assuming you’re injury free and would like to stay that way, there is a bit of preventative work you can do to decrease your risk of ankle sprains.
Dr. Kathryn Schabel, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at Oregon Health Science University says, "Key concepts in ankle inversion injury prevention are ankle training and terrain surveillance. Trail runners, hikers, and others at high-risk benefit from one-legged balance and proprioception exercises." She continues, "The stronger your leg muscles are, the less likely you are to sprain an ankle. And, the more accustomed your brain is to anticipating and firing those muscles, the less injury-prone you will be."
Try these exercises three times per week for ankle strength and balance.
1. Single-leg medicine ball toss
> Square off with a partner and toss a medicine ball back and forth while standing on one leg. Make it harder by balancing on a foam pad.
> Shoot for 60 seconds, 5 times.
2. Balance disc
> Use one foot to stand on a balance disc for as long as you can without toppling over.
> Do 5 sets for maximal time.
3. Single-leg good mornings
> Stand on one leg and bend forward, while maintaining your normal spinal curve.
> Challenge the tiny muscles of your foot and ankle by doing 15 or more to fatigue.
4. Resisted eversion
> Sit down and place a mini resistance band around both forefeet. Strengthen your lateral ankles by rotating your feet upward and outward, against the resistance.
> Do at least 3 sets of 10.