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How To Treat Ankle Sprains and Prevent Them

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The post Which Shoes Help Exercise, Fall Prevention, and Ankles? showed why you don't need high top shoes, or arch supports, or orthotics to prevent your arches and ankles from sagging inward (pronation, arch flattening, or flat feet). You can quickly train your ankles and feet to hold straight stable position using your own sense of positioning that comes from receptors in the muscles and connective tissue around your ankle and foot. The post Arch Support Is Not From Shoes gives a simple retraining to restore healthy comfortable arches and prevent the pronation that can cause knee, hip, ankle and foot pain. It's easy, built-in exercise-as-a-lifestyle.

What about feet and ankles that turn the other way - bending outward, not inward, at the ankle so that you may turn your ankle causing a fall or sprain? What if you already have sprained your ankle and want to get back to activities and prevent future sprains? The same simple principle applies. Using easy positioning training, you can teach your ankles to sense when they are turning too much to the outside, and quickly send signals to your ankle, foot, and leg muscles to straighten your ankle and prevent a sprain. This works well, even with damaged and overstretched ankle ligaments, and is key to rehabbing a sprain.

Wearing supportive shoes, an air cast, splints, taping, and elastic bands to brace an injured ankles is a common practice that perpetuates weak, unstable ankles because these devices prevent sense of balance and positioning. Wearing these things to "support" non-injured ankles for hiking and walking is just as bad. Within only one day of wearing an ankle brace, whether you have a sprain or not, balance is quickly diminished. You can put a healthy person in an ankle brace and test their ability to stand on that foot without the brace at the end of one day and find they are less able to balance and more likely to tip over. This problem compounds each day a brace is worn.

The missing link in ankle rehab and the reason for so many repeat sprains is staying in the bracing and not doing enough balance and positioning retraining after the last sprain. This is why resting an ankle, bracing it, and reducing activity can make things worse. It is also the reason why the usual ankle strengthening exercises have not been working, and people keep spraining their ankles despite strengthening exercises. The issue in ankle sprains is not as much strength as sense of positioning, called proprioception. You need simple and easy-to-do proprioception exercises. Would you like to try one?

  1. Stand up. Keep both feet facing straight ahead, not turned out.
  2. Rise up on tiptoe. Notice if you allow your weight to teeter over the small toes, tipping your feet and ankles outward. That is the poor positioning and lack of the stabilization that allows your ankle to turn in the outward direction that allows sprains. You don't want this bad positioning to occur any time you are walking, hiking, jumping, dancing, or moving in any way. Not even when sitting.
  3. Shift your body weight over your big toe and second toe. Don't let your ankles sag inward or outward. Hold your ankles straight.
  4. Hold standing up on tiptoe with straight, good positioning as long as you can. You can practice this on the phone, or when doing dishes or laundry. Make sure you use it in real life activities whenever standing on your toes to reach and lift.

Next: More fun ankle proprioception retraining to rehab ankle sprains and learn to prevent future sprains - No More Ankle Sprains Part II.


Photo by Justinoberman


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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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