Ah, yes. The good 'ol ankle sprain. They're kind of like that night in Tijuana where you stole a taxi, started a fight at a biker bar and woke up the next morning in a pet store. Everyone's done it but no one likes to talk about it. No? Just me? Moving on, then.
Ankle sprains are an injury to the ligaments of the ankle. Here's a knowledge nugget - a Sprain refers to a ligament and a Strain refers to a muscle tendon.
The most common type of ankle sprain is an inversion sprain where you "roll" the ankle and foot underneath the leg -
Image courtesy of shiftmovementscience.com
As you can see in the image, multiple ligaments are typically damaged and very often, muscle tendons of the foot and lower leg are strained. Therefore, a sprain injury is usually accompanied by a strain injury, as well.
The most important point of this whole post is that: a) If you do not rehab your ankle properly the first time that you sprain it, there is a very high likelihood that you will experience multiple sprains, decreasing the stability of your ankle and therefore your whole body, with every subsequent injury.
If you have already experienced multiple sprains, it's not too late! There's hope! Just kidding, there's no hope - just chop the foot off and work on your superpower of regeneration. Wait wait wait, try these exercises first and if they don't help, then you can start thinking about losing the foot.
Exercise #1: Single-leg Balance
Just as it sounds, you do your best flamingo impersonation and stand on one leg, barefoot. You should be able to do this for at least 60 seconds, pretty comfortably. Practice with each leg, not just the injured side! If you're comfortable with 60 seconds, try closing your eyes. By taking away visual cues, you're taking away one of your brain's tools to maintain balance and it will force the ankle to work harder. If you want an even harder challenge, go fix the U.S. tax code. Or, balance on an unstable object like a thick, folded towel, a balance pad or a BOSU ball.
Wow, perfect form!
Image courtesy of National Geographic
Exercise #2: Resisted Inversion + Eversion
This is a deceptively difficult exercise, especially if the injury is still relatively acute (within the last 6 weeks or so). You will be sitting on the ground and use a resistance band to...provide resistance. Be sure to perform both inversion and eversion, as shown below. Approximately 20 repetitions and 2-3 sets should do it. The band can be tied to something heavy like a table leg or my Aunt Peggy.
(Peggy not pictured)
Image courtesy of ballroomguide.com
Exercise #3: BOSU Ball Lunges
I'm assuming here that you have a decent working knowledge of proper lunge form. If not, look it up or e-mail me and we'll have a little chat. There are multiple ways to do this lunge but for ankle sprains specifically, I prefer the method shown below. You can either keep the front foot on the BOSU throughout the set or do the lunge, step off of the BOSU and then step back on for the next repetition.
Note that this model's posture is terrible!
You should go down until the back knee nearly touches the ground and push back up with the front foot. Dumbbells optional. If you do not have a BOSU handy, try a folded towel or a couch cushion.
There are many, many more great rehab exercises for the ankle but these are a great start and if you need more, drop me a note and I'm happy to help.
An ankle sprain disrupts not just the physical structures of the ankle but the proprioception of the body, as well. That means that the brain loses track of exactly where the ankle and foot are in space, thereby reducing stability. Rehab exercises repair the physical damage but also help rebuild the brain's connection to the injured area, greatly decreasing the chance of a recurring injury.
As always, please reach out with questions. If you want to know more about Tijuana taxis or pet stores after hours, you'll have to wait for the memoir.