Recurrent Ankle Sprains
I think everyone in their life has had AT LEAST one ankle sprain. Whether it comes from playing sport, a night out on the town or chasing the kids around the house there wouldn’t be many of us who haven’t experienced that ankle twist underneath us and you go down like a bag of potatoes. Usually lots of pain, maybe a pop or crack and generally a lot of swelling.
Hopefully you’ve had the sprain treated properly and you’ve kept up with some of the exercises and there hasn’t been any issue since. This is the ideal world, now let’s talk about the real world. After a period of time, most people will have forgotten about the exercises or forgotten they’d sprained the ankle at all.. UNTIL it happens again. And again. And now it just happens all the time.
These types of recurrent ankle sprains usually occur as a result of the damage that was caused by the initial (and subsequent) sprains. Our body has lots of joints, big and small, and these joints are stabilised by both passive (e.g. ligaments and capsules) and active structures (e.g. muscles crossing the joints). These structures not only support the joint but they also send messages back to the brain constantly, telling the brain exactly where the joint is positioned. It occurs for every joint in the body, all the time, and it occurs at a subconscious level. Pretty impressive right!
The issue with the system is that if the structures that send the messages to the brain are stretched or torn (i.e. after an ankle sprain), these messages become less reliable and this can result in subtle joint position errors. We don’t usually notice the slight error until it ends up causing an issue such as not being able to feel your ankle turning in quick enough to correct it before you go down like the before mentioned sack of potatoes. This is why we’re more susceptible to recurrent ankle sprains after having the initial injury. Great. I’ve rolled my ankle a bunch, now I’m destined to have recurrent sprains forever?!
The sense of where your body (or in this case ankle joint) is in space is a trainable trait. We can sharpen those signals up by doing some basic exercises consistently. A mix of strength and balance exercises is important as we not only want to improve joint position sense but also the active stabilisation of the joint. Calf raises, single leg strength and control exercises, plyometric exercises and agility work should all be a part of a thorough, graded rehabilitation plan in order to reduce your risk of suffering another ankle sprain. This should eventually be incorporated into your regular training program so you don’t think of it as ‘rehab’, but more so an extension of your regular training.