Prevent Ankle Sprains – Exercises to Prevent Ankle Sprains – Part 1

Been there, done that.

In high school my ankles were so bad that one time I was walking through Walmart, stepped off of a wooden pallet that was holding dog food (the big 50lb bags), and blew out my ankle.

Don’t laugh.  (well, it is a little funny I guess)

It was bad enough that I ended up in the emergency room later that night because I thought I may have torn a ligament or broken it.

So I feel you.

In addition, as a performance coach and trainer I’ve seen athletes in all sports (in particular basketball) that have struggled with chronic ankle issues (sprains, pain, swelling, etc.).  While the generic RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevate) are great for immediately after an injury (first 24hrs), that isn’t enough to help, recover, or prevent further issues.

The other issue is that athletes typically don’t do any prehabilitation (think before injury) training which could not only reduce their risk of injury, but also lessen the severity (fewer games/practices missed), improve performance, and increase their speed and explosiveness.

Preventing ankle sprains shouldn’t be looked at as time consuming, it should be looked at as performance improving!

I’m not going to bore you with lame therband exercises, balancing exercises, and doing your ABC’s with your ankle.  That stuff is all fine and dandy (for a few days) but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t do a lot in the long-term.  I’ve been there and done that (atleast 3 different times with different PT’s).  The reality is that you need more than that; you need more dynamic exercises that are going to actually help you in the time of need (game speed when you’re tired).

So where do you begin?  With developing proper range of motion (ROM) at the foot ankle joint.

No matter how many bands, mats, or exercises you use, if you don’t have adequate ROM you won’t prevent anything.  Values vary according to what source you look at, but are in the range of 0-20deg.  If you want to truly reduce your risk of having an injury issue, try to keep it in the 10+ degrees range.  You can do this multiple ways, but I follow 3 basic strategies on a regular basis to keep the motion and reduce the risk of injury.

1) Soft tissue work.

It’s very important to have proper motion of the needed muscles and joints.  This means that for the ankle we need to make sure that the lower legs (calves, etc) and hips are rolled out.  You can do this multiple ways, but I prefer to use the foam roll for the lower body and follow it up with a tennis ball or lacrosse ball for the hips (glutes).

Check out my complete lower body foam rolling video here

2) Static Stretching.

Despite the bad rap that static stretching (holding a stretch without moving for time), I still believe it has value.  At this point in time there is more than enough research that shows it still helps lengthen the muscle(s).  At this point, with the current population lacking proper ankle range of motion, I still find that stretching the calves helps keep the lower leg flexible and helps reduce the risk of injury.  In theory, and application, we stretch after we foam roll because the foam rolling softens the muscles, and then we stretch the muscles to make them longer.  Hold each leg for 30 seconds per side.

Calf Stretches here

3) Ankle Mobility Exercises.

Once the muscles are softened and stretched we will do ankle mobility exercises to teach the body to learn to move through that new flexibility you have just developed.  Typically I have athletes do abut 15 reps each side.

Prone Ankle Mobility Exercise here


All of these exercises and movements can be done in about 5 minutes.  I recommend that you have athletes go through these movements as part of a warm-up routine.

In part 2 I will cover the exciting part of training to prevent ankle sprains by covering the ‘good’ stuff.




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