The most common injury in football, the ‘lateral ankle sprain’, known by most as simply a sprained or twisted ankle can be a painful and extremely frustrating injury for footballers at both professional and grassroots level.
Due to lack of proper rehabilitation when a teenager, I now have to wear a huge, metal-plated, lace-up support every time I play any type of football – It’s too late for me, but along there are loads of tips I’ve picked up along the way so I can help you if you go over on your ankle during a match.
Once You’ve Gone Over…
It’s incredibly frustrating and can be a hard thing to bring yourself to do, but as soon as you’ve sprained your ankle it will only get worse if you carry on playing.
If you’re an outfield player playing 5-a-side, don’t just go in goal – you’re more likely to damage your ankle further by instinctively sticking out your foot in order to save a shot.
R.I.C.E. is easy to remember and a good way to minimise the injury.
After stopping playing, try to walk on it as little as possible until the swelling goes down and its pain-free to walk. For most sprains this might take up to a week.
As soon as you can, cover your whole ankle with ice (protected by a rag or something similar to stop it burning you).
Use a ‘20 minutes on, 20 minutes off’ pattern with the ice, and do this for upto 2 hours in one spell up to 5 times a day for the first 3 days.
Strap up your ankle tightly (but not too tightly to cut off the blood supply) during the first week after injury
Whenever it’s possible, for example at night-time, try to keep your ankle higher than your heart. Use cushions and pillows to keep it up.
After the pain and swelling subsides, you’ll need to do some ankle exercises to strengthen the muscles around the ankle.
It’s best to do various exercises as often as possible which focus on different muscles in your lower leg. Below are some recommended examples.
1. Calf Raises – Whilst standing on the injured leg, slowly raise your heel up and down (without it touching the ground) until your calf hurts too much or you fall over. It’s recommended to stand by something waist height so you can balance easier, so this is a brilliant exercise to do whilst cleaning your teeth.
2. Balance Tests – Use a balance board, or pile up a couple of cushions and stand on your injured leg for as long as possible. This will work all the muscles around your ankle and can be made harder by either closing your eyes or by playing ‘catch’ with yourself by throwing a ball against a wall.
3. Stretch Bands – If you have access to Stretch bands (shown below), they can be great for 4 different exercises.
Whilst sitting down with your legs out in front of you, tie the stretch band to an immovable object (i.e. the bottom of a sofa/bed). Sit about a metre back, stretch the band around your foot and slowly raise your foot up and down until it starts to hurt. Then turn 90 degrees round to the side and slowly move your foot sideways (against the band), before doing it on the other side. Finally, untie the band, and stretch the band around the bottom of your food – hold on the the previously tied up end and move your foot down (against the pull of the band), and up.
Don’t Come Back Too Early
One of the things I regret most regarding my ankle injuries was playing again when my ankle wasn’t completely healed. To make things worse, I pilled up on some quite powerful painkillers, which meant my ankle was falling apart and I couldn’t even feel it.
As ankle sprains are basically damaged ligaments, repetitive injury will only make your ankle weaker, and weak ankles are much more likely to lead to repetitive injury – it’s a vicious circle.
There’s a huge range between the best and the worst ankle sprains possible, but in general it’s necessary to not play football for between 4-6 weeks, sorry!
Before playing for the first time, it’s vital to do some tests to make sure your ankle has healed and is unlikely to cause you damage anytime soon. It’s also quite nice to tell people you’re having a late fitness test, you’ll feel pretty professional…
1. Jump Around – Imagine the 4 points of a compass on a floor about 2 feet apart from each other. Standing on your injured leg, jump between all of the points, making sure you jump in all directions (left, right, forward, backward, diagonally).
Landing on your foot should feel comfortable and pain free, if you feel any type of pain, you’re not ready to start playing.
2. Jump Up, Jump Up & Get Down – Use a trampette (one of those very small trampolines), 2 or 3 stacked up (but steady) cushions, or a small wall.
Standing on the injured leg on the higher surface, jump down to the lower surface. As soon as you’ve landed, hop back up onto the higher surface. Repeat several times.
Again, landing on your foot should feel comfortable and pain free, if you feel any type of pain, you’re not ready to start playing.
3. Kicking A Ball – The final ankle test will be actually kicking a ball (perhaps against the wall or with another player). Make sure you try all types of kick (laces, side foot, volley, outside foot) and don’t be scared to kick as hard as you can.
Once again, you should feel no pain!
Ankle Sprain Prevention
Strapping up your ankle is a good idea to minimise injury risk if you haven’t currently got a weak ankle.
If you must play with a weak ankle (like I do), strapping simply isn’t strong enough to prevent a recurrence. You need to get a ‘high protection’ support.
These supports will limit any movement of your ankle, which is cumbersome and not ideal for football by any means – but it will basically eliminate the risk of you going over on your ankle, which by this time, is the most important thing.
Good quality supports cost between £20 and £50, but if you get one make sure you’re able to wear it and a football boot at the same time, some of the supports I’ve seen look huge.
If you’ve got any questions about ankle sprain issues, or would like to know more info about good quality ankle supports, feel free to contact me @ojay1331