Do you want to hear a shocking statistic I read in the New York Times? About 28,000 people get ankle injuries every day in this country. And most of them do it while running or doing other athletic activities. Making sprained ankles the most common sports injury in this country.
But let's look closer to home. If you spread those injuries across the country, about 560 people in Texas are hurting their ankles every day; as one of the major cities in Texas, there are probably at least 100 Houstonians twisting their ankles today alone. So why aren’t you seeking the help of a Houston podiatrist like me?
"Walking Off" Ankle Sprains Causes Repeat Injury
There's a lot of you tough guys and girls out there. So, if you haven’t broken a bone, you tell yourself, “It’s just a sprain.” And you keep on hobbling through your daily activities, believing you can walk off the pain. Well I’m here to tell you—stop it! The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released a statement making it clear that ankle injuries should never be taken lightly.
Why? Ankle injuries that aren’t properly treated leave you susceptible to prolonged discomfort, re-injury, chronic disability and even early arthritis. And it's that repeat injury thing I really worry about. Because, once you’ve had one ankle sprain, your body is at higher risk for more. Unless you target that ankle with special exercises. (More about that below.) In fact, your biggest risk for spraining your ankle sprain is having already done so.
If that sounds strange, here's the story. After an ankle sprain, something called proprioception weakens your ankle. Sound fancy? I'll break it down into simpler terms. You see, proprioceptors are sensory neurons. We find them in muscles, tendons and joints. And their job is to keep your body centered as you move, so you don't wobble around. Little kids are still developing proprioception, which is why they walk like drunken sailors. While older people start to lose it, explaining why you fall more as you age.
But back to those ankle sprains. When you sprain an ankle, you damage your proprioceptors. And that makes it harder for your body to stay upright. So, when faced with obstacles, your ankle is more likely to wobble and get a second sprain. Luckily, you can strengthen that ankle--and heal your proprioceptors. But first, you have to properly heal your ankle injury.
Treating a Sprained Ankle
Ready for a bit more bad news? I have to tell you, home treatments for sprains like RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation don’t work as well as you might think. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the pain also isn’t the best idea, according to NATA’s new study.
So what should you do if you get an ankle injury? Dr. Thomas W. Kaminski, lead author of the report, tells all you walk-it-off advocates exactly what I have been saying for years: the key to recovering from an ankle injury is to be seen by a podiatrist and have the injury properly diagnosed. That way, we can determine the extent of the damage and the best way to treat it. And, one likely way of treating the ankle sprain will be with strengthening exercises. After your inflammation and pain have cleared up, of course!
Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains are a common side effect of many summer sports, including basketball. While not completely unavoidable, there are ways you can strengthen your leg muscles to help avoid basketball-related ankle sprains. Try these 3 exercises suggested by NBA Coach Tim Grover via Stack.com to build up your ankle strength before problems arise!
Single-Leg Calf Raise
The Single-Leg Calf Raise eccentrically works the muscles around the ankle so they can better absorb force when you land or change directions.
How to: Perform a Calf Raise on one leg. Once you have reached the top, instead of dropping down and beginning the next rep, focus on taking 5 seconds for your heel to touch the ground again. So 1 second up, 5 seconds down for each repetition.
Sets/Reps: 3x12-15 each leg
Single-Leg Ladder Drills
Performing speed ladder drills on one leg trains your ankles to absorb your body weight in every direction.
How to: This is where you can become creative. Using a speed ladder, warm up using both feet. Once you are warm, do each sequence with only one foot. Try doing a few hops—then stop, go sideways, backwards, and side to side. The possibilities are endless, but make sure you only use one leg at a time and end up with equal exercises for both legs.
Sets/Reps: 15x ladder (choose different patterns)
This will strengthen the muscles on the front of your shins, which help stabilize your ankles.
How to: Begin with a 10-pound plate. While standing, place the corner of a plate over your toes, then dorsiflex your foot to raise the plate with your toes. Increase the weight of the plate as tolerated, but focus on going one second up, then slowly lowering it back down for five seconds.
So, if you were out playing basketball with the guys and felt an unfortunate twist, don’t keep playing through the pain. Schedule an appointment at Tanglewood Foot Specialists as soon as you suffer an ankle injury to prevent further injury or permanent damage to your ankle or foot.