There are many sporting activities that involve rapid changes of direction, such as tennis, rugby, or football. This is hard work for the ankles and can often lead to injury.
As a Physio and also a former U17 international and current semi pro footballer, I have experience of this type of injury from both sides of the treatment room couch.
In ankle injuries, there’s often damage to the ligaments, tendons, joint surfaces and/or the joint capsule. Once these structures have been damaged, the muscles have to work harder to provide stability for the joint.
In the acute stage of an injury, taping the ankle is an effective way to provide support for the joint and prevent further injury.
However, it’s only a short term solution. Over time, the body can become reliant on the taping, rather than the underlying muscles, for support. The muscles can then ‘switch off’ and weaken, with a resulting risk of injury recurrence.
A lasting solution requires a programme to strengthen the supporting musculature and also to improve balance and proprioception (the body’s instinctive understanding of limb and muscle alignment in space).
The benefits of a strengthening programme are self-evident – after all, the stronger the muscles, the more support they can provide for the joint. But you may be wondering why we need to work on the balance and body awareness?
Well, the joint will recover from the injury but will often not be the same as it was before. Once the ligaments have been strained/torn, even long after they have healed, they remain slightly longer, allowing more lateral movement in the joint. So balance retraining is essentially helping the body work safely with a joint that now has more movement in it, and ensuring that the body weight is transmitted through the most stable joint positions and alignment.
Without it, the joint will remain unstable and will be significantly more prone to re-injury (re-rolling) especially while on uneven ground.
Here are some helpful exercises to build up the co-ordination and strength in your ankle. Even if you’re not injured, whether you’re a competitive player or a weekend warrior, they great for Prehab:
1. Single leg Balance
– 30dgr bend in knee
– knee and foot facing forward
– 30 seconds to 1 minute hold
– on wobble board, cushion/mattress to make harder (more unstable surface)
2. Heel raises (off a step or rise)
– balls of toes on edge and heels hanging over
– straight and bent knee
– rise up onto toes
– Lower heel all the way down
– progress to single leg heel raises
– Step forward with one leg
– Lower body until forward knee is at least 90º and rear knee close to floor
Other exercises that can help include squats and lunges as well as jumping exercises or exercises with directional changes, making it all more functional as you progress.