Preventing Lateral Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are common injuries that plague athletes of all ages in all sports. Most ankle sprains result in damage to the lateral (outside) ligaments. Ankle sprains account for around 15% of all youth athlete injuries each year.1 They are the second most common diagnosis in the youth population behind head/face injury or concussion.1

Activities commonly performed in sports such as landing from jumps, stepping on another athlete’s foot, and planting and twisting are all common mechanisms of ankle injury. While there are many factors that play into injury of these structures in the ankle, research shows that previous history of ankle sprain is the biggest risk factor.2 Re-injury to the same ankle often results in chronic pain or instability in 20-50% of cases.3 Injury to the lateral ankle ligaments not only causes pain to the athlete, but also results in lost practice and game time.4 For these reasons, ankle injury prevention is becoming an increasingly important focus of concern for both the athletic and medical communities.

Different interventions have been recommended for the prevention of ankle injuries. External supports, such as semi-rigid braces or tape, have been shown to effectively prevent ankle injury.4 Most research shows that semi-rigid ankle braces were equivalent to a classic ankle taping in preventing ankle sprains. It is also more cost effective to purchase ankle braces for athletes than it is to tape their ankles for a whole season.4 Based on this research, bracing is recommended over taping solely based on cost effectiveness since ankle injury prevention was equal for both treatments.4

Many studies show that proprioception training greatly reduces the risk of ankle injury.3,5 Proprioception is your awareness of the position and movement of your body in space. Proprioception training for the lower body typically involves balance on varying surfaces, from hard flooring to soft pads, and exercises that challenge the athlete to focus on other activities (such as catching a ball) while balancing. The combination of proprioception training with strengthening the muscles that stabilize the ankle lead to greatly reduced risk of ankle injury.3,5

Here is a link to easy exercises to do at home to work on balance and strength in the ankle:

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Author: Heather Bartz MS, LAT, ATC

  2. Beynnon BD, Murphy DF, Alosa DM..Journal of Athletic Training . 2002;37(4):376–380
  3. Verhagen E, van der Beek A, Twisk J, Bouter L, Bahr R, van Mechelen W. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2004;32(6):1385-1393.
  4. Mickel TJ, Bottoni CR, Tsuji G, Chang K, Baum L, Tokushige KAS. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery. 2006;45(6):360-365.
  5. Kaminski TW, Hertel J, Amendola N, et al. Journal of Athletic Training. 2013;48(4):528-545.