By Douglas Tvrdy PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Ankle sprains are the most common injury in basketball. These occur in both contact (landing on an opposing players foot) and non-contact (side-shuffling and rollin the ankle) situations during practice or a game. An ankle sprain is a stretching/tearing of the ligaments on the lateral (outside) side of the ankle. 

Primary prevention of a first time ankle sprain has more to do with your balance, proprioception (joint awareness) and ankle range of motion than taping or shoe wear. Studies have shown mixed results at best for high versus low-top shoes in preventing initial ankle sprains. Taping or bracing is only slightly effective in preventing first time ankle sprains, but it is effective in preventing re-injury.

Your balance appears to play a big role in preventing ankle injuries. Increasing your balance can start with:

  1. Standing on one leg for 30 seconds at a time
  2. Next, play catch while standing on one leg.
  3. Stand on unstable surfaces such as balance discs, or a Bosu ball for 30 seconds to one minute, and then play catch on those as well

Those activities will challenge your balance. To increase your joint awareness, close your eyes while performing some of those balance tasks; such as a single-leg balance on flat ground, and then on the balance discs or Bosu ball.

Some studies suggest that limited ankle dorsiflexion (toes going towards your shin) may predispose you to ankle injury. Calf stretching off the edge of a step will help to increase this motion.   

If you happen to land on someone’s foot and sprain your ankle immediately: rest, ice, compress, and elevate to reduce the swelling. As the swelling decreases begin working on range of motion exercises, such as writing out the alphabet with your foot. Next, begin working on strengthening exercises. These can be done either by pushing against manual resistance provided by your hand or an elastic band, working up and down and in and out with the foot. Perform calf stretching as mentioned previously to return to full range of motion. Progress to standing exercises such as calf raises and box step ups before moving to the balance activities mentioned previously. Plyometrics (jumping) and cutting are usually the last exercises performed before returning to sports.  Bracing and taping has been shown to be effective in preventing recurrent ankle sprains for return to sport.

If you continue to have pain or problems contact your health care professional.

References:

Do voluntary strength, proprioception, range of motion, or postural sway predict occurrence of lateral ankle sprain  M de Noronha, K M Refshauge, R D Herbert, S L Kilbreath.  Br J Sports Med 2006;40:824–828.

“An Evidence-Based Approach to Lower Extremity Taping.” OSMA presentation by Kyle Meyer PT, DPT, CSCS and John Jake Mischke PT, DPT September 13, 2011

High- versus low-top shoes for the prevention of ankle sprains in basketball players. A prospective randomized study. Barrett JR, Tanji JL, Drake C, Fuller D, Kawasaki RI, Fenton RM. Am J Sports Med. 1993 Jul-Aug;21(4):582-5.