Most Common Ankle Injuries and How to Prevent Them
As a personal trainer and fitness instructor for many years, there is one area of the body where common injuries occur, “the ankle”. Not all ankle injuries occur during exercise or physical activity. They can happen stepping off of a curb onto the street. And not all ankle injuries are the same, ranging from mild to severe. For example, the most common ankle injury is an inversion ankle sprain which can happen to the average person who is not exercising at all. It occurs when the ankle twists into an inverted state or rolls inward causing the lateral ligaments outside the ankle to become stretched significantly. Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery can take a day or two or even longer depending on the damage.
The opposite of an inversion ankle sprain is an eversion sprain where the foot twists outward and affects the more stable ligaments on the inside of the ankle – the deltoid and medial ligaments. Not as common as an inversion ankle sprain, they are usually more severe and can take months to heal depending on how much damage was done to the deltoid and medial ligaments.
If an ankle sprain occurs high, then that involves the syndesmotic ligaments that connect the tibia and fibular in the lower leg. This can occur when the foot and lower leg rotates externally and twists outward. RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation are required immediately. Football players can suffer this type of injury when being tackled and it can take at least two weeks to fully recover from this kind of injury.
Breaking one or more of the bones that make up the ankle joint are known as ankle fractures and can range from a small break to multiple or larger fractures that may require surgery in order to stabilize the bones. Ankle fractures often involve injuries to the ligaments that hold and keep the joint and ankle bones in place. Recovery can take at least three to four months if surgery is required, and even longer if involved in sport activities.
If there is significant blow to the ankle that causes it to flex outside the normal range of motion, this is known as an ankle dislocation. This usually involves one or more fractures of the ankle bones. Plates and screws are used in surgery to repair and stabilize the ankle joint with recovery taking at least six to eight weeks.
Whether you are an athlete, exercise daily or simply walk every day, you can decrease your risk of injury with the following prevention tips:
Warm-up by taking a few minutes to loosen up your entire body before exercising including your feet and ankles. Start with a few deep breaths, a slow jog for a few minutes followed by a light stretch without ‘bouncing’ is key.
Build Muscle Strength and Mobility throughout your entire body including your feet and ankles. Participating in different activities such as cross training is an excellent way to build muscle and improve mobility.
Wear the Right Shoes if you have low arches or your feet tend to pronate. Make sure you choose shoes that provide support in the front and back of the shoe, as well as under the arch. If you have a high arch or stiff feet, select shoes that have a softer platform and more cushion. Cross training shoes are a good choice for most activities, however, choose sport-specific shoes whenever possible. If you are an avid runner or exercise regularly, it is a good idea to replace your fitness shoes every six months.
Avoid Unstable Surfaces such as hills or surfaces with loose gravel, rocky terrains, trails that have roots, tree stumps or holes or dirt that is softer than asphalt. Choose a stable surface and avoid uneven surfaces whenever possible. Running up a hill outdoors is a great way to get in shape, but be very careful going up as well as running downhill, which can lead to more injuries.
Consider wearing a lace-up ankle brace which is especially effective in reducing ankle injuries in basketball players or any athlete especially those who may have had a previous ankle injury and need to prevent reinjury.
Most of all, listen to your body. If you experience ankle or foot pain during a sport or activity, stop or modify the activity/exercise until the pain subsides. If you have experienced an ankle injury, take the appropriate steps for rehabilitation and training before returning to the sport or activity to prevent injuries from recurring. Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you find your ankle or foot is swelling or you are limping as prompt treatment can help ensure the best recovery.
Written By: Sherry L. Granader, ACE, AFAA, NETA, ACSM, ASFA