Preventing Ankle Sprains in Basketball 

 November 30, 2021

By  Don White

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No sport produces more ankle injuries than basketball.

An athlete wearing high-tops and/or tape may provide an illusion of temporary support but it will not sufficiently create ankle mobility and stability in order to be able to handle the stress of the sport. Perhaps there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration.

              Let’s talk a bit about some stats.

  • According to ACSM, 25,000 Americans suffer from an ankle sprain each day (9 million annually). Ankle sprains account for almost half of all sports injuries.
  • 41% of all sports related ankle sprains are basketball related, according to the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The treatment of ankle sprains in the U.S. costs more than $2 billion each year
  • Of the 740 players randomly assigned to wear lace-up ankle braces, 27 suffered an ankle sprain or fracture over one basketball season.  Once the ankle “goes,” McGuine said, a brace may not do anything to limit the severity of the injury.

SOURCE:  American Journal of Sports Medicine, online July 27, 2011; Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, ATC, UW Health Sports Medicine Center, 621 Science Drive, Madison, WI 53711

Prevention Tools

In the sport of basketball, athletes are constantly jumping and changing directions, therefore injuries of the lower body seem inevitable. That doesn’t have to be the case.

Over the last thirty years, shoe manufacturers have designed shoes with the idea that they protect the feet and ankles. Unfortunately, the layers of foam and padding within the shoe, combined with athletic tape, often inhibit proprioception. Proprioception is the system of pressure sensors in the joints, muscles, and tendons, which provide the body with information to maintain balance.

This isn’t to suggest you should abandon your sweet kicks but rather perform certain drills (see below) that can help restore that proprioception and reduce your risk of injuries.

Step 1
The lower body is the base our foundation, therefore it is very important to make sure the quality of our fascia and muscles are good. To relieve any tightness and scar tissue, use a foam roller, stick or massage (lacrosse) ball. The more uncomfortable it is, the more the muscle needs to be massaged. On sore spots, pause to help release the knots and roll back and forth in different angles to cover the muscle. This increases mobility range and also helps blood flow for much needed repair.

Step 2
Let’s work on some mobility and proprioception in order to stabilize and strengthen the muscles around the ankle. Athletes who suffer from recurring sprains don’t necessarily have weak ankles—they can be very strong but lack balance because their proprioceptors have been damaged from the initial injury.

To reconnect that proprioception, it is important to do single-leg balance work. Use an unstable surface such as an Airex© pad, folded yoga mat or towel that measures around 4” to 5” high. It should be enough to create some instability while standing on one leg. Barefoot or in socks is also more effective.

*For an added challenge, change your head position or close your eyes—anything to help reactivate your proprioception.

The video below is a great indicator of how much range you should have in your ankles within the sagittal, medial and lateral planes. The further you place your foot from the wall without lifting your heel, the greater the range you have and will acquire. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps in each direction.

These exercises should increase stability and mobility in the ankles. If the sprains reoccur, then we need to look at what’s going on in other areas (ex. hips, knees…). Getting out of the tunnel vision approach and assessing other dysfunctions or finding the modes of compensation, can possibly bring to the forefront a solution to the lack of mobility or stability.

Don White

Coaching coaches and clients to optimize their life through proper training protocols and all aspects of metabolic health.

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