Ankle sprains are extremely common, especially lateral ankle sprains - where the ankle is rolled over so that the sole of the foot faces inwards and ligament damage is sustained on the outside of the ankle. This can occur in also all sports and regularly in day-to-day life, with stairs and curbs being the most frequent culprits.
Now, we all know that right away after a sprained ankle we must use the good old RICE protocol, so we rapidly reach for the frozen peas and tubi-grip. And we are right to do so! Icing regularly, elevating the foot and using a compression bandage are very effective in limiting swelling and bleeding. However, after a few days, maybe a week, of treating the injured ankle with the greatest respect, it starts to get better. Once we can walk around comfortably, we tend to forget about it.
This is where most people make their mistakes in treating a sprained ankle and end up with what is so frequently described to me as 'weak ankles'. This is quite a common complaint from individuals who have sprained their ankle once, never really got it treated and consequently it has happened again.....and again.....as the ankle becomes more and more deconditioned.
When an ankle is sprained, ligaments are torn, either partially or fully. When this happens, a number of other structures are affected. The calf muscles, Gastrocnemius and Soleus tighten up in a protective mechanism to prevent any further damage to the ankle. This reduces the flexibility at the joint. Secondly, within the ligaments and tendons of the ankle (or any other joint) are sensors which detect the position of the joint and relay this information back to the brain. If the ligament is damaged, then the transmission of this information is affected, which in turn, affects our balance. Thirdly, whilst we are being good and resting our injured ankles, the muscles are becoming weaker and weaker as they are not being used.
From this information, we now know that in order to fully rehabilitate an ankle following ligament damage, we must a) increase the range of motion at the joint to the normal levels b) improve the balance to equal the uninjured limb and c) improve the strength back to pre-injury levels.
This is all quite easily achieved with all of 5 minutes a day! Stretching the calf muscles in two positions for 30 seconds at a time, performing 10-20 calf raises and using a wobble board for a couple of minutes will make a considerable difference to the condition of your ankle and should, with a bit of effort, prevent future ankle sprains!