Avoid Ankle Sprains this Soccer Season

Now that Summer has arrived, you and your family may finally be getting back to some of your favourite outdoor sports, including soccer. Studies show that soccer has a surprisingly high injury rate and the lower body is the most affected area. These injuries are no surprise given the fast pace, rapid direction changes and player-to-player contact that characterizes this sport. This month we would like to discuss one of the most common injuries in soccer – lateral ankle sprains.

What exactly is an ankle sprain?

The term sprain refers to injuries, usually tears, to ligaments. Ligaments are strong and vital pieces of connective tissue that join portions of cartilage or bone together. Lateral ankle sprains are the most common type of ankle sprain, and it describes the tearing of the ligaments located on the outside of the ankle (below what we often call our “ankle bone”). The typical cause of an ankle sprain is an inversion injury – the ankle gets rolled inwards – which causes overstretching and even tearing to the ligaments that stabilize the outside of the joint.

Doctors classify sprains in one of three ways depending on their severity:

  • A Grade 1 injury is the least severe and is described by mild swelling, pain and limited limping.
  • A Grade 2 injury is identified by having more pain, swelling, a noticeable limp and a longer recovery time.
  • A Grade 3 injury is the most severe, characterized by significant pain, swelling, and an inability to put any weight on your foot. Recovery time can be up to 3 months.

How can ankle sprains be prevented?

Ankle sprains are common in sports that involve jumping and running – particularly when running and changing direction – such as basketball, soccer and gymnastics. Some people are predisposed to ankle sprains due to their foot mechanics or their body’s laxity (looseness) of ligaments throughout their body. Also, once you have an ankle sprain, you are more likely to experience another.

But just because you have one or two of these predisposing factors doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life spent on the sidelines nursing a twisted ankle. You can do things to decrease your risk of an ankle injury. It will help if you improve the joint’s stability by increasing your proprioception. Proprioception is our body’s ability to know where it is in space. This system becomes impaired after ligament injuries and appears as poor balance after ankle sprains.

If you have an ankle injury, compare your ability to balance on just one foot on the injured side vs the uninjured side. If you notice decreased proprioception on one side, try these exercises to improve your ankle stability.

One Leg Balance

  1. Stand on just one leg for 30 seconds without holding onto anything. If this is too difficult, then lightly place a few fingers on a countertop or the back of a chair. Gradually decrease your amount of support until you can do this without using your hands at all.
  2. Once you can do this, continue challenging yourself by adding head movements or standing on a less stable surface like a shag carpet or pillow.

One-Legged Squats

  1. Do this exercise in front of a mirror so you can observe the position of your knee.
  2. Shift your bodyweight onto just one leg and slowly squat down on your supporting leg.
  3. Watch the position of your knee as you lower your bodyweight – your kneecap should stay in line with your second and third toes. Resist the tendency of the knee to collapse inwards as you bend down.

Book an Appointment Today!

For more ways to challenge your proprioception and prevent ankle sprains, schedule an appointment with one of our therapists at any of our 4 Innovation Physical Therapy locations today!