Protecting Your Ankles During the Winter
Ankle sprains are the most popular sports injury, with approximately 2 million sprains occurring every year in the United States alone. Dr. John Kennedy, Orthopedic Surgeon, says, “As winter settles in, many of us will put ourselves at risk of an ankle sprain by strapping on a set of skates and going out on the ice. Therefore, it’s important to understand how the injury happens and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the first place.”
The Injury and Anatomy
The ankle is most commonly sprained in an inversion injury – commonly known as “rolling” your ankle. This places a significant amount of strain on the lateral stabilizers of the ankle, particularly the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL). This is the weakest and most commonly injured structure. If the ATFL heals in a lengthened position, it can no longer provide stability to the ankle joint. This can lead recurrent sprains and chronic ankle instability.
There is an enormous variety of mechanical adjuncts that help to prevent ankle sprains, including taping, bracing and prehabilitation. Studies have shown that individuals who suffer from repeated ankle sprains, are more likely to benefit from these stabilizing aids compared to people who have never previously injured their ankle. Additionally, lace up ankle braces have been shown to be better, or at least as effective, at preventing ankle sprains compared to taping. Interestingly, the beneficial effects of ankle taping have been shown to be significantly reduced after only 10 minutes of sporting activity.
The most natural way of reducing the likelihood of an ankle sprain is by prehabilition. This entails performing a series of exercises to improve the balance and strength of the ankle stabilizing structures. While competitive ice skaters may undergo a formal physiotherapy program to “prehabilitate” their ankle, recreational skaters can perform a few exercises at home or at the gym to reduce their chances of a sprain. These include performing a single leg stance and single leg squats on flat ground. For the more advanced, these exercises can be performed on a balance board.
Dr. John Kennedy specializes in osteochondral injuries, Achilles tendon injuries, ankle instability, and ligament reconstruction and has a primary interest in lower limb surgery, particularly sports-related injuries. He is currently the clinical director of the Running Clinic at Hospital for Special Surgery.