Photo by Scott Roeder – UltiPhotos.com
The number one cause of ankle injuries is previous ankle injuries. So how do you stop the catch-22 of twists, sprains and time out of the game?
Dogfish team trainer Dr. Molica Anderson emphasizes that after an ankle injury it’s critical to rehab not just to the point of being pain-free, but to the point where you regain full function of your ankle.
“Too many times this is overlooked,” Anderson says. “Your body’s instinct is to heal and protect, not heal with continued athletic ability in mind. The scar tissue that builds up as protection reduces the ankle’s range of motion.”
Ultimate players can stop the injury cycle by focusing on existing unsteadiness in their ankles. “Any instability at any time needs to be addressed,” says Anderson. “Taping is a useful technique, but players shouldn’t rely on it as a substitute for combatting the weakness.”
Doing strengthening exercises can help return ankles to full function. Sites like webexercises.com are convenient for doctors and their patients as they work together to return a player to full health. Anderson also uses the Graston Technique®, which employs metal tools to reorganize scar tissue in order to make the ankle stronger.
Here are two exercises you can use to increase range of motion and build strength in your ankles:
1. Begin in a half-kneeling position.
3. As you exhale, lunge forward and bring your knee past your toes without your heel coming off of the ground.
4. Inhale and return to the half-kneeling position.
5. Exhale and repeat.
Reverse Calf Raise
(Perform this exercise near a railing or wall for support in case you become off balance.)
1. Begin by standing on the edge of a step with your feet hip width apart and your heels hanging off the end.
2. Lift your heels by rising up on the balls of your feet.
3. After both feet are fully pointed, lift one foot off of the step.
4. Slowly lower the heel of your other foot past the horizontal level of the step.
5. Once your heel is fully lowered, return your lifted foot to the step.
6. Switch feet.
But what happens when a player does become injured and needs relief?
“During recovery and rehab, the number one priority is to get them out of pain,” says Anderson. “Number two is to decrease inflammation.”
Most of us are familiar with the RICE principle – Rest Ice Compress Elevate – following an injury. Anderson adds a “P” to the beginning for Protect.
“Act quickly after an injury,” she says. “Ice it immediately for 15 to 20 minutes, then stop. Longer than that will actually reverse the effect of the ice in preventing pain and swelling.”
Anderson recommends using an anti-inflammatory that you would normally use. Some athletes use ibuprofen or Arnica. She will sometimes use a RockTape inflammation-reduction tape job to control swelling.
“Elevate your ankle and have it examined for fractures before you undertake a strengthening regimen,” Anderson advises.
Part of protecting the ankle goes back to prevention. After reducing the pain and inflammation and confirming that there are no breaks, Anderson describes the next stages in the recovery cycle.
“Third is training the ankle to a normal range of mobility, and fourth is to restore strength, proprioception and balance.”
Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense the relative position of the different parts of the body – in essence, knowing where our limbs are without having to look to locate them. This is important of course for everyday movement but critical to keep an athlete performing well and without injury.
No matter where you are in the recovery cycle (or in your Ultimate career), Anderson emphasizes that it’s never too late to focus on strengthening and training your ankle so that you can operate at full capacity in whatever activity you choose to undertake.
Next time: Symptoms and solutions for IT band issues. If you missed our initial introduction to Molica Anderson you can learn more about her here.
Note: The information provided in this article should be used as a reference and starting point for discussion with your primary care physician or specialist about a strengthening regimen that works best for you.