As we enter the summer season and hit the hiking trails, one common injury we see in our clinic is the ankle sprain. Approximately 25,000 people sprain their ankle every day. Ankle sprains can occur with athletic activities including running, jumping sports, and hiking, or simply stepping off of a curb the wrong way. If you have a history of a previous ankle sprain, you may be at increased risk for recurrent ankle sprains.
The ankle gets its stability primarily from ligaments which hold bone to bone, and a series of muscles that surround the joint. With an ankle sprain, the ligaments are over-stretched or torn. The most common type of ankle sprain is an inversion sprain caused by the ankle rolling inwards, injuring the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. While ankle sprains are common, there are things you can do and be aware of to reduce your risk of suffering an ankle sprain this summer.
Maintaining adequate range of motion, strength, balance, and proprioception are crucial to keeping your ankles healthy and injury free. By stretching the calf muscles you can help maintain ankle range of motion and prevent stiffness which increases your risk of ankle injury. Performing heel raises while standing at the edge of a step will help to strengthen your calf muscles. If you perform this exercise on one leg you will get more bang for your buck by making it a balance exercise too. Another simple balance exercise you can do is to stand on one leg while performing other tasks such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Try doing this for one minute on each leg. You can progress the single leg balance exercise by standing on an unstable surface such as a foam yoga mat, or by tossing a ball back and forth while balancing on one leg. If you have access to a wobble board, you can use this tool to train your balance and proprioception. Proprioception is our body’s sense of where our joints are positioned in space. Decreased proprioception has been linked to chronic ankle sprains. To challenge your proprioceptive system even more you can perform single leg balance with your eyes closed. In addition to performing these preventative exercise, wearing proper footwear when performing physical activity is crucial to minimizing your risk of ankle injury.
There are many ways to progress these exercises to maximize your ankle strength, stability, proprioception and balance in order to reduce your risk for ankle sprains this summer. Integrate these exercises into your current program in order to keep you out on the trails all summer long.