High Ankle Sprains

From the WebMD Archives

By Amy McGorry

As college hoopsters hit the hardwood for March Madness, sometimes they hit it awkwardly, resulting in so-called "high ankle sprains." This injury isn't just common in basketball; it also happens in sports such as football, soccer and skiing.

High ankle sprains occur when there's damage to the fibrous tissue and ligaments that are located above the ankle (hence the "high"). These tissues provide stability and connection between the two bones in the shin (the tibia and fibula). In contrast, the common ankle sprain -- where the foot rolls in or out -- affects the ligaments in the lower ankle and foot. Studies show that players who suffer from high ankle sprains can be sidelined twice as long as those with a regular ankle sprain. So let's take a look at how you can avoid this injury and stay in the game!

When High Ankle Sprains Are A Pain

The tissues and ligaments above the ankle can get damaged if the shin twists and the foot rotates outward too much in a planted position. High ankle sprains can also occur if there are excessive loads on the ankle when the toes are pointed up. After injury, athletes usually complain of pain in the upper ankle and shin region. (Sometimes a bone gets fractured.) Recovery can take up to six months -- and in some cases, surgery is required.

Why You're Sidelined

Running, jumping, cutting (changing directions quickly) and even walking causes the space between the tibia and fibula to widen. In the case of rebounding a basketball (where you're doing a combination of these movements), that gap gets pretty wide. It pulls on the tissues above your ankle as your body tries to keep the space stable. Now add the twisting of the foot as you land. If this force exceeds the tissue’s limits, a tear occurs. This can lead to instability, poor performance and pain -- especially since this area of the leg is difficult to rest, due to its weight-bearing and stabilizing duties.

How To Stay In The Game

Training that enhances body awareness can help you avoid injury. So can following a strengthening and flexibility program for the hips, knee and ankles.

Try the following:

Single-Leg Squat

  • Stand with your back against a wall
  • On one leg, squat down 60 degrees
  • Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg

Single-Leg Stance

  • Stand on a disc with one leg
  • Keep knee and ankle aligned
  • Toss a ball against the wall
  • Do for one minute on each leg and repeat


  • Balance on one leg and tie resistive tubing to the other
  • Keep knee and ankle aligned on the leg you're standing on
  • Kick leg with tubing forward, back and to the side while balancing on one leg
  • Kick 20 times in each direction
  • Repeat on the other leg


  • Wrap a resistance band around your foot
  • Tie the other end to a secure object
  • Keeping your knee straight, move your foot inward so you feel resistance on the band
  • Don’t let your knee roll
  • Do 3 sets of 10, then do another set moving your foot outward instead of inward
  • Repeat on the other leg

Eccentric Calf Raises

  • Stand on edge of step
  • Lift heels up
  • Slowly lower
  • Do 3 sets of 10

Always check with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program.