What can I do to prevent an ankle sprain?

To avoid ankle sprains, maintain good strength, muscle balance, and flexibility. Warm up before engaging in sport activities, and wear proper footwear. Pay attention to your body’s warning signs, and slow down when you feel pain or fatigue. (This answer provided for NATA by the Weber State University Athletic Training Education Program.)
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
While many individuals might think that to prevent ankle sprains, you should focus on the muscles surrounding the ankle, in truth, that is only one area you should condition. Your hips are the other. Research has shown that when you sprain your ankle, you make your ankle ligaments loose and less responsive for support. Further research indicates that ankle sprains shuts down the muscles of your upper and outer hip, so when you sprain your ankle, you develop a lack of ligament support and decreased balance, increasing your risk of injury. The hip muscles become less active and do not help protect the ankle, which produces a nasty cycle of injury, making you more prone to further ankle sprains among other ailments. The best way to retrain your ankles is by activating key hip muscles with exercises like the floor bridge and side to side tube walking. Also, you should be doing progressively more challenging balance exercises on a single leg. For example, you can start on a single leg standing on a stable floor. You can progress to standing on a towel, and further progress that to standing on a pillow cushion. When your balance is looking good and you can balance successfully in different environments, add increased challenges by bending at the hip and knee of the balance leg performing single-leg squats or single leg deadlifts.

There are many simple things that can be done to prevent an ankle sprain. Make sure your strength, flexibility, and endurance are appropriate for the type of sport you will be playing. Select footwear that fits well and is tailored for the activity in which you will be participating. Incorporating activities into your training routine that challenge your balance can also help reduce your risk of future ankle sprain. Examples of these activities include standing on one leg with your eyes open or closed. These activities should be modified by including single leg balancing on an unstable surface and eventually incorporating tasks that involve strength and power while balancing on an unstable surface. If you participate in a sport, be sure to incorporate plyometric drills on a regular basis with a special focus on proper biomechanics and balance.

There are three areas that help promote ankle stability and health. These are flexibility, strength and something called proprioception. Most of us are familiar with flexibility, but some people are lacking the normal range of ankle motion. There are some that even have inequalities in flexibility from side to side. Achieving normal and symmetric flexibility and range of motion makes it possible for our ankles to keep us upright despite changes in direction or irregularities in the surface we are on. In addition, flexible muscles function better and are less likely to be injured. 
Muscle strength for ankle stability sounds obvious, but how many of us actually do something about it. The most important muscles are the lateral stabilizing muscles that keep us from rolling the ankle in either direction. In addition to strength, muscular endurance is important as our muscles begin to get tired. 

Proprioception is our ability to know where our body parts are in space and how that position relates to other body parts. The brain and nervous system is responsible for proprioception. This sense works in concert with balance in helping to keep ourselves upright. This is also an area that can be improved upon. To learn about these exercises in detail, consult a health care professional.

There are also a variety of braces that can be used if you have already sprained an ankle in the past. Taping is also used, but has not been as effective as bracing in research studies.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.