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Ankle Sprains: What You Need to Know

September 12, 2014

If you or someone you know plays football or soccer, chances are good that you, or they, have experienced a painful ankle sprain. It is the most common injury to plague football and soccer players, and it’s hard to prevent in the heat of the game. Still, there are steps you can take to lower your risk for ankle injury. Here, Selene Parekh, MD, an ankle surgeon at Duke, explains how to keep your ankle healthy, and how to care for ankle sprains if they occur.

Why are soccer and football players at high risk for ankle sprains?

Both sports require players to wear spiked shoes, or cleats, that plant the foot rigidly into the ground during play. When the player makes a sudden move, the foot remains fixed, while the body twists in a different direction. That’s when the ankle gives out. While ankle sprains are also common among volleyball players, ankle braces have proven to be very effective in decreasing the number of ankle sprains that occur.

What can athletes do to avoid ankle injuries?

  • Figure out the ideal footwear for the turf you play on. You have to strike the right balance between a cleat that gives you enough traction, and one that doesn’t plant your foot so rigidly.
  • Focus on proprioceptive training. This teaches the nerves in the ankle to recognize when the ankle is in a weak position. The nerves then fire the muscles and tendons into action to prevent the ankle from giving way. This is especially important if you’ve suffered ankle sprains in the past. Wobble or balance boards are a great way to work on balance and ankle stability. They are available online.
  • Strengthen your peroneal tendons, which run along the outside of the ankle and are responsible for stabilizing your ankle. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can recommend exercises that strengthen these tendons in hopes of preventing future sprains.
  • Use kinesiology taping. It increases nerve sensitivity so that they become more aware of your ankle positioning. This reduces the likelihood of sprain.
  • Wear an ankle brace in any practice or game situation if you’re prone to ankle injuries. It’s your best prevention if you’ve tried other methods and still experience recurrent sprains.

If I have sprained my ankle, what should I do?

Follow the RICE method – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. If you still experience discomfort after four to five days, seek medical care. If you’re an athlete, see an ankle specialist or sports medicine doctor who understands the mechanics and anatomy of the ankle, and the demands of your sport. He or she can oversee your rehabilitation to get you back in the game.

When should I seek immediate medical care?

If you can’t put any weight on your foot for several hours, if you have a lot of black and blue, or if there is pain around the bony bulges of the ankle, you should seek medical care right away. An X-ray can determine if the ankle or a bone in your foot is broken.