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Recovering from an Ankle Sprain

During my first practice when I coached in Ireland, I asked one of the players when he hurt his right ankle. The player was amazed. “How did you know? It’s been over six months. It’s fine now.”

His ankle may have felt fine, but it was not. Over six months after the injury, his ankle sprain was affecting his performance. When he shot the ball, he did not extend equally with both ankles – his right ankle did not plantar-flex.

Beyond affecting his shooting, your feet and the ankle extension begin the triple extension of your ankle, knee and hip when you jump and provide the most power to your jump. So, a lasting ankle injury – one that is not properly rehabilitated – continues to affect performance long after it has healed (pain dissipated).

The popular response to an ankle sprain is ice and rest. However, that response is slowly changing:

In the past few decades, doctors have changed their thinking about the best treatment for sports injuries ranging from sprained ankles and pulled muscles to, in some cases, broken bones. After the initial pain and swelling begins to subside – sometimes in as little as a few days – movement and gentle loading of the injured area seems to help muscles heal better, hasten return to full strength, and reduce the risk of recurrence.

When I work with young players, I often see players who never rehabilitated their ankle injury and who have reduced range of motion due to scar tissue. Often, I rain players who think they have a shooting problem, but they really have an ankle problem, even though the pain has subsided.

“If an injured muscle heals without any stress being put on it, it will generally heal in a shortened position, and the affected area will be a bit weaker and more fibrotic [from abnormal scar tissue] than the surrounding tissue,” says Shawn Thistle, the clinic director of Shape Health & Wellness Centres in Toronto. “It ends up being the weak link when you return to activity.”

The basic exercises that anyone can do regardless of facility or equipment are:

  • Standing on one foot and drawing the alphabet with other foot. Switch feet, as the injured ankle needs the stability from balancing on one leg and the range of motion from drawing the alphabet.

Some other examples of exercises:

If you do not have a theraband, use a towel.

Also, for more information, check out this post and Andy Twellman’s video on ankle sprain prevention.

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