Think you’ve recovered from that ankle sprain that happened a month ago? Think again! Even mild ankle sprains can increase your risk for recurrent ankle sprains and chronic pain if not properly rehabilitated
The majority of ankle sprains occur with ankle inversion, or when rolling the foot & ankle outward.
Figure 1: Ankle inversion
When the ankle is inverted too far in an uncontrolled manner, the ligaments that stabilize the lateral aspect of the ankle may be sprained or torn.
Figure 2: Lateral ankle with stabilizing ligaments marked in black.
Lateral ankle sprains, even mild ones, can result in decreased ankle stability, delayed reaction time, and impaired balance. If left untreated these factors do not spontaneously resolve and may increase your risk for future ankle sprains and possibly chronic ankle instability (CAI). CAI has been reported to occur in 40-70% of people who have suffered a lateral ankle sprain. A recent 2011 study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that six weeks of balance training improves dynamic balance & joint position sense, especially with ankle inversion motion. (Sefton et al, 2011)
Balance and stability may be impaired even after the pain from a mild sprain has resolved, and small impairments in balance can increase the risk for future ankle sprains. This is why balance training is essential after an ankle injury and can include as little as 10 minutes per day of exercises to improve your balance.
Balance training can be as simple as standing on one foot on solid ground or as difficult as jumping from side to side on one foot. Balance training can begin as early as one week after an ankle sprain, and should be continued with increasingly difficulty exercises 3-4 times per week for at least 6 weeks.
Examples of balance exercises are listed below in order from least to most difficult:
- Standing on a single leg
- Tightrope walking
- Standing on a single leg & tossing/catching a ball
- Standing on a single leg while reaching towards the floor
- Standing with both feet on balance board & rocking side to side
- To increase the difficulty of a balance exercise, add an unstable surface such as a foam cushion or a Bosu ball
Disclaimer: This blog article is not intended for diagnostic purposes or treatment prescription; the purpose of this article is for general information only. If you have an ankle injury, see your primary care practitioner, physical therapist, or orthopedic specialist for diagnosis and treatment options.
–Megan Peach, DPT, CSCS | megan at excelptmt.com
JM Sefton et al. Six Weeks of Balance Training Improves Sensorimotor Function in Individuals With Chronic Ankle Instability. JOSPT 2011;41(2):81-89
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