As January quickly approaches, we find ourselves in the heart of basketball season, which from an Athletic Trainer’s perspective means the endless onset of ankle injuries. One of the most common injuries seen in the sport of basketball is the ankle sprain, and as the low-top shoe becomes ever popular this is not going to change any time soon. However, I find that rather than treat the issue once it occurs, why not try to prevent it from ever happening in the first place? Repetitive ankle injuries can be a nightmare in the middle of basketball season, leaving the athlete never quite feeling the same again. Below I will discuss some methods of prevention, in hopes that you can avoid this headache in the future.
- Protection. Ankle braces have gotten a bad name at times for making the ankle weaker. However, if you also work on the next steps, you will see that this certainly is not the case. The ankle brace simply adds extra support for those unfortunate landings on someone else’s foot, and they take the stress away from what the ankle joint would be feeling in this situation. I find that the braces that both lace up and have the straps work best, just make sure they are the correct size.
- Range of Motion. Improving ankle motion and the flexibility of the surrounding muscles are essential. When an ankle injury occurs, there is not just injury to the joint but also to the surrounding musculature, which results in an overstretching or a muscle strain. Performing a calf stretch where the toes are lifted up onto a wall will stretch the back of the ankle - this is the easiest stretch to perform. Also balancing on one foot, while rolling the other ankle side to side will get the rest of the ankle. It is important to not lose balance or control while doing this so you do not overstretch.
- Balance. Our ability to balance well, especially on one foot or while slightly off balance is something often forgotten about. I have found that the chronic ankle injuries often relate to an individual who has very poor balance. A basic way to work and improve balance is to start with a single leg balance, eyes open. Once this gets easier, progress to eyes closed. This will work something called your body’s proprioception, or its ability to know where it is in space without a visual aid. This is often a much harder step, and may take some time to master. From here, open your eyes and you can begin performing balance exercises on an unstable surface, or with the addition of hops and jumps. This will also stimulate a more sport specific atmosphere.
- Strength. The ankle joint performs four general motions; it can point the toe down, pull the toe up, point the toe out or point it in towards the center of the body. These motions work the surrounding musculature. Sometimes just doing them against gravity may be challenging enough, and then as it gets easier you can add a thera-band for resistance. I also like to include calf raises, first double leg and then progress to single leg, as well as heel and toe walks. If you have someone to work with you, they can also provide manual resistance with their hands if you do not have access to a thera-band.
As with all things, you do not want to overdo any of the above exercises. If at any point pain is felt, you may be doing something incorrectly, or may need to lower your repetitions. Any soreness can be treated with ice afterwards. I think it works well to try and incorporate some of the above into a daily warm-up routine before working out or practice, but if that does not work then performing them three to four times a week would also be sufficient, just make sure to try and be consistent.