Twist and Shout: How to Minimize Ankle Sprains
Dec. 6, 2000 -- Ankle sprains are one of the most common and
debilitating injuries for an athlete. We have all seen professional athletes
wearing braces of some kind or walking around the playing field with taped-up
ankles. But do these really work to prevent sprains? Researchers in the
Netherlands have sifted through eight clinical studies on the subject and come
up with their own conclusions, which are published in a recent issue of the
Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
According to the authors, both tape and braces do work -- but
with some caveats. If a sprain is going to happen, either is beneficial to
lessen the severity. Both, as well, can prevent them from happening in the
first place. But braces may have an edge, at least for certain people. The
researchers found that only those with previous ankle injuries actually
benefited from preventative bracing. Not true with tape. Other findings: Shoe
height is a less-important factor in preventing ankle sprains than shoe
newness. Proprioception -- your ability to know where your body parts are (in
this case, your ankle) -- is also very important. The authors say that
proprioceptive training, which heightens an athlete's sensitivity to the
possibility for an ankle injury (so they can avoid it), benefits everyone.
What do practitioners say? In general, it takes good muscular
strength and strong and proper shoes to prevent ankle sprains. And if they
happen anyway, they shouldn't be ignored. "The most important thing is to
strengthen the muscle groups that support and surround the joint," says
Marje Albohm, MS, a certified athletic trainer at Orthopedics Indianapolis in
Some of this might even be achieved using household items, says
Al Green, MEd, former athletic trainer at the University of Kentucky and now
with the Kessler Rehabilitation Centers. "Putting a weight of some type in
a towel and curling it with the toes; picking up sticks or marbles with the
toes increases dexterity and strength of the ankle."
But Albohm says there is still a problem. "The muscle
groups [in the ankle] are relatively small. So the potential to really protect
that joint is compromised," she says. "Even with the best
strength-training, sprains do occur."
The next thing, she says, is to make sure the footwear is
appropriate. "And that means appropriate to the surface you're playing on.
Lots of research has looked at injury related to the shoe-surface interface.
For a sport involving jumping, running, cutting ... you want a fairly sturdy
shoe," says Albohm. "You're not concerned with it being lightweight or
having a sole appropriate for outdoor terrain. You want something very sturdy
and secure." Obviously, that creates a problem for the athlete with many
interests. "If you're saying, 'I can't buy six pairs of shoes,' a well-made
cross-training shoe is an excellent choice."