It’s happened to all of us. The foot torques, somebody steps on us, or we land on uneven footing and bam! — ankle sprain. It hurts to darn much that first minute or so, but then we can walk it off… we gotta get back in the game. NOBODY sits because of a stupid ankle they walked off the court on. So we cinch it up tight and are best buddies for AT LEAST the rest of the season with the notorious ankle brace.
photo credit: ssorkc.org
Something hurts, tighten, continue movement. (Your body reflexively stiffens to avoid pain. Think about flexing or curling into a ball when you know a punch or strike is coming). Sounds like a solid plan, but the ankle is a MOBILE joint. That means the ankle was meant to move. If the ankle CAN’T move (cue high tops and bracing for precautionary measures), guess who’ll start hating you real soon? The knee. Perhaps a pattern is unfolding..
Immediately after spraining an ankle, you should follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) recipe to decrease swelling and maximize healing. But after a week or so when the pain has downgraded from searing to annoying, you want to start improving range of motion (ROM). This should be gentle and gradual. If your ankle sprains were long ago and they’re just stiff, hammer the following movement patterns on a regular basis and get those ankles moving as they should.
NOTE: If you are currently recovering from an ankle sprain, you want to try and drive the ankle in the direction of the sprain as soon as possible. For example, if you roll your foot out, you want to be try and focus on forcing the outside ankle down to the ground to remind the body that it can go there. Consistent practice in your weak ROM will reveal an almost mystical rebound to normal after ‘rolling’ the ankle in sport or practice.
Standing on balls of feet on an elevated surface, drop the heel as far down to the ground as possible. You should try this holding onto something for support to begin with. Ensure your knee is extended (straight) and your hip is driven forward to ensure ankle is receiving maximal tension.
Eric Cressey gives a closed chain, ground based movement variation. Try this second. Practicing this movement will combat walking, running on your toes. (Again, train the OPPOSITE of the pattern that’s dysfunctional)
Here he is again adding lateral hip drive:
You can add lateral knee drive in the same way, locking the hips but sliding the knee left and right.
ANKLE FOLDS, DRAGS, & ROLLOUTS:
The other side of the heel drop pattern (dorsiflexion) is the toe point pattern (plantar flexion). No, the ankle should never fold over onto itself, but stressing this pattern is important because the toes indeed should be able to point past the position of the ankle. (If a joint can’t get into the position it should, another joint(s) will be compromised to get the work done). This position is best practices by stepping the foot behind you, as show in the video below. I add some heel drives and drags to best facilitate all planes of motion. The final sequence is simply roll outs. This is how most people sprain ankles, and thus what we want to make our ankles familiar with. The key here is to best try and lock out the knee, squeeze the butt, and drive the hips forward.
The ankles are meant to move. Quit bracing them and TEACH them to move.
Allow fresh ankle sprains to heal, but get them moving again as quickly as possible
Joints stiffen to protect
Drive ankles in the direction of stuck and vulnerable positions to increase their ROM, increase function, and minimize further chance of injury