Ankle injuries, specifically sprains, are among the most common injuries seen in netball and soccer due to the jumping, turning, twisting movements and explosive changes of direction involved in the sports.
The ankle is a hinge joint that allows the foot to bend upwards and downwards. There is also a small amount of rotation in and out. The joints stability comes from the structural arrangements of the bones and surrounding ligament.
Acute ankle sprains occur when a force is applied to the ankle joint which causes an excessive amount of movement at the joint.
On the inside of the ankle, the joint is stabilised by a thick, strong fibrous ligament called the deltoid ligament. Sprains to the deltoid ligament (eversion sprains, foot twists outwards) account for less than 20% of all ankle sprains.
On the outside of the ankle, the joint is stabilised by three smaller ligaments; the anterior talofibular (at the front), the calcaneofibular (at the side) and the posterior talofibular (at the back). Sprains to any of these ligaments (inversion sprains, foot twists inward) account for more than 80% of all ankle sprains.
The most commonly injured ligament is the anterior talofibular. Injury to this ligament results in swelling and pain (and sometimes bruising) on the outside of the ankle.
Proven risk factors
- Previous or existing ankle injury especially if poorly rehabilitated (biggest risk factor).
- Lack of strength and stability related to the ankle.
- Lack of, or extreme flexibility, in the ankle joint.
- Poor balance.
- Sudden change in direction (acceleration or deceleration).
- Increasing age of player.
Whilst an ankle injury will often improve on its own after a number of weeks, the joint can become unstable. Without adequate rehab, a full recovery is often not made and you end up with recurrent sprains!
If this sounds like you, watch out over the coming days for some hints and tips on ankle strengthening, stability, balance and stretching.