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Ask the Lab: Ankle Sprains

PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

This week's question: Last year during a match I sprained my ankle. I treated it with ice and wore a brace for a few months until it was healed. This year I have sprained my ankle two more times during matches. What will help me to prevent further sprains?

Cori Thompson: Ankle sprains can become a chronic issue for various reasons including incomplete ligament healing, inadequate rehabilitation, and lack of ankle support. Chronic ankle instability is defined as an ankle that “gives way” frequently resulting in repeated ankle sprains. This occurs most often when a player sprains their ankle and does not adequately rehabilitate the injury before returning to play.

Physiologically, the torn ligaments of the ankle continue to heal for 4-6 weeks after the initial injury. As they heal, the ligaments align in an elongated fashion which causes abnormal laxity (looseness) of the ankle. The looseness combined with loss of supporting lower leg muscle strength, coordination, and balance (proprioception) results in ankle instability.

It is possible to regain full functional stability and return to tennis with decreased chance of injury by completing a rehabilitation program consisting of strengthening the muscles which support the ankle joint and retraining motor and balance skills. Ankle bracing and/or taping is helpful, but should not be relied upon fully without the addition of ankle exercises. Bracing or taping without also performing strengthening and balance exercises weekly, can actually weaken the ankle.

In tennis it is important to be able to perform lateral push-off as well as quick sprinting. For this reason, I have included some tennis specific ankle strength and balance exercises as well as basic ankle rehabilitation exercises below.

Tips for treating ankle injuries for tennis:

- Adding balance and ankle strengthening exercises into your weekly training regimen (3-4 times weekly) will help prevent future injuries

- Taping and bracing may help prevent chronic recurring ankle sprains if combined with appropriate rehabilitation exercises

- Balance exercises should be progressed from stable to unstable surfaces and can be completed based upon times (i.e. 3 sets of 30 sec holds)

- Use therabands to incorporate ankle exercises during travel and competition

CLICK HERE  for photos of strengthening exercise demonstrations

About the Author

Cori Thompson, MS, ATC, PES, joined the USTA Sport Science staff in June 2007 as a Strength and Conditioning Coach/ Athletic Trainer. Based in Boca Raton, Cori is responsible for providing strength and conditioning as well as medical support to High Performance players and prospects. She works closely with the Sport Science and Coaching Education staff to provide education, testing, and training to players, coaches and parents.

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