Have you ever rolled your ankle? Well who hasn’t? Rolled it more than once?
Ankle sprains are common, they account for up to 34% of all sporting injuries and about 80% of all ankle injuries. Most ankle sprains are mild, so the common treatment thought can be “walk it off, it’ll be ‘right”.
This is correct for the most part, they will be.
You might be familiar with the basics of ankle rehab – manage the swelling, get your movement back, and calf raise like no there’s no tomorrow before getting back on the field. And this can often be done without the help of a Physiotherapist. Sometimes people reach out to a Physio once or twice for taping to help them back to sport as quick as possible, but that’s where it usually stops.
Until you roll it again.
You keep playing as it keeps getting better, although by this point you’re probably relying on a brace or regular taping.
Netballers, I’m looking at you!
There’s nothing wrong with wearing a brace. Research even indicates that braces help prevent sprains in chronic “ankle sprainers”.
But why would you rely solely on tape or a brace?
I recently treated a young rugby league player for an ankle sprain. Having rolled his ankle many times before he’d been strapping it for every training session and game and hadn’t had any issues for two years. Until he ran out of tape for the first time. He trained without tape, and over on his ankle he went. So, apart from forgetting to top up his tape stock, what went wrong?
Let’s take a look at what we know about ankle sprains.
Once you stretch or tear a ligament in the ankle, that ligament is never going to be the same as before, especially if you’ve done it more than once. Ligaments have two main jobs; to stabilise the joint, and to help tell the brain what that joint is doing (called proprioception). Proprioception is the key to avoiding recurrent ankle sprains.
This means that after a sprain, the ligament isn’t as good at its job anymore. A stretched ligament can’t stabilise your ankle as well and it can’t accurately tell your brain what your ankle is doing. This leaves you with an unstable joint that is difficult to control. That is why once you’ve rolled your ankle once you will often roll it again.
You can’t really undo the stretching of the ligament, but you can optimise the healing to allow that ligament to heal as stable as possible, and you sure can re-train your brain to know what your ankle is doing and then control it. This part of the rehabilitation process is often what gets neglected after an ankle sprain. The swelling goes down, the movement comes back, they get their calf strong and get back on the field. However, they haven’t actually gotten control back.
For everyone who has rolled their ankle recently or has a “dodgy” ankle, let’s try something – stand on your “dodgy” leg and close your eyes and balance.
How long did you last?
Now do it on your good ankle.
Was there a big difference?
That’s the control you’ve lost.
The type of control you need depends on your sport, and that’s where seeing a Physiotherapist can help and save you big bucks on endless rolls of tape and braces.
A rehab program for your ankle needs to be specific to you. If you play rugby you need a program that will increase your ankle stability during a tackle and your big right step. A netballer needs enough stability to be able to leap off one foot, land on the other and pivot without losing balance.
If you’ve sprained your ankle for the first time, or if you’ve sprained it many times, it’s still not too late.
Take control and get control of your ankles!
Invest in a rehab program, tailored specifically for you by one of our Physiotherapists at Sydney West Sports Medicine.
Call us on (02) 9851 5959 to take control back today!
Written by Luke Anderson (Physiotherapist)