5 Secrets to Preventing Ankle Injuries

Aug 13th, 2013

Category: Athletic Performance Training

5 Secrets to Preventing Ankle Injuries

Prevent Ankle Injuries with these 5 Tips

By, Mark Wine CSCS; NASM PT, PES, CES
Founder of Functional Muscle Fitness

Ankle injuries are one of the most common injuries in modern time. The National Center for Health found that there were approximately 800,000 ankle fractures in 2003. The majority of ankle injuries occur upon ground contact during sprinting, cutting, or jumping. The eccentric muscular action (deceleration) is the most dangerous portion of any movement and is most commonly linked to injury. However, the eccentric muscular action is the greatest form of training to stimulate muscular growth and tendon / ligament strength. Therefore, eccentric loading, as well as stabilization training (proprioception), must be incorporated into any strength and conditioning program.

A correlation has been linked between weak ankles and weakness within the lower extremities. In contrast, stronger lower extremities often result in a reduced risk of ankle injury. One reason relates to the impact / force that is applied upon the ground during running and jumping, basically all athletic movements. An ability to apply more force upon the ground during sprinting, jumping, and various other movements will lead to greater levels of athleticism / speed. However, the greater the ground reaction forces the more stress that is placed upon the joints, ligaments, and tendons.

Not all muscular strength protocols are created equal. Here are some of my main focuses during any resistance training program with a goal of increasing athleticism while decreasing the likelihood of ankle injury.

1) Increase the quadriceps strength.
The quadriceps muscular group is located on the anterior (front) portion of your leg between your knee and hip. The quadriceps is responsible for decelerating, handling the eccentric load, during sprinting and/or jumping. Stronger quadriceps muscles result in enhanced absorption of the ground reaction forces, thus resulting in lower amounts of stress placed upon the joints and enhanced reactive abilities. For example, the amortization phase of sprinting is the phase between ground contact and flight. Increased quadriceps strength allows an athlete to move through the amortization phase more quickly, which leads to a faster athlete. Exercises that are great for quadriceps development are:
• Back Squat – with a 4 second eccentric phase (4).
• Front Squats – bar preferred but performing dumbbell front squats is a better beginner exercise and allows for increased ROM for new athletes (1).
• Backwards sled pull or resisted reverse sprinting – the focus is placed upon the VMO muscle of the quadriceps group, which is responsible for tracking the knee cap.

2) Proprioceptive Training.
Proprioceptive training is exercises that are performed on a stable yet unstable surface. Some strength coaches will argue that performing exercises on unstable (proprioceptive) surfaces does not translate to sports because sports are not played on unstable surfaces. Although this may be true, proprioceptive training can determine structural imbalances while increasing mechanoreceptor activation, which will lead to a reduction in injuries. I have worked with numerous athletes who have increased their strength and stability within their ligaments and tendons, particularly their Achilles tendon, by way of proprioceptive training. Proprioceptive training also increases the intrinsic foot muscles, which can result in a reduction in stress fractures (barefoot training helps too). Here are a few proprioceptive exercises that I often incorporate into a program:
• FMF Step Ups© – step ups that are performed on a bench, instead of a box, to increase the proprioceptive nature of the movement. The off leg continues to travel upward into a hip flexion position while the foot is placed into a dorsiflexion (foot flexed) position. Once at the top, pause, and then return back down in a controlled manner. Keep the one sides foot on the bench until all reps are completed on that side (2).
• Core Trainer Reverse Lunging – this exercise requires the athlete to balance on a core trainer with one leg while performing reverse lunges for a desired repetition count (3). The unstable platform leads to enhanced mechanoreceptor activity and enhanced core stability.

3) Strengthen the soleus calf muscle.
The soleus muscle is the lower muscle of the calf. Seated calf raises strengthen the soleus muscle. The soleus muscle is primarily a slow-twitch muscle fiber that is responsible for plantar flexion (raising the heel off the ground). Due its slow twitch nature, an exercise protocol of higher repetitions will lead to greater results than performing lower repetitions. However, utilize lower repetitions while strengthening the gastrocnemius calf muscle (upper calf). Legendary S&C coach Brad Roll, formerly of the Oakland Raiders and my mentor and friend, often prescribed 20 repetitions of seated calf raises to his NFL players. This prescription is correct to allow for greater strength and stability within the ankles.
• Seated Calf Raises

4) Strengthen the Tibialis Anterior.
The tibialis anterior muscle is located along the shin. Weak tibialis anterior muscles results in an increased likelihood of ankle injury and shin splints. This muscle can be strengthened through various dorsiflexion (foot flexed) exercises.
• FMF Step Ups© (2).
• Band resisted foot flexion exercises – attach a band to a solid object in front of you and place your toes through the loop. With the band fully taunt, constantly move from plantar flexion (foot pointed) to dorsiflexion (foot pulled up to towards the shin).
• Swimming – swimming, particularly breast stroke, can target the tibialis anterior muscle.

5) Soft Tissue Rehabilitation.
Soft tissue inelasticity is linked to structural imbalances, tears, strains, and sprains. Tightness of the soft tissue has shown significant increases in the likelihood of injury and decreased levels in strength and power. This leads to decreased athletic performance. Tightness within the calf muscles can significantly alter walking and running mechanics. Altered mechanics results in shin splints, ankle sprains, tears, and slower speeds. Structural imbalances, such as foot external rotation (varus foot) and/or flattened feet, where the arch collapses inward (valgus foot), results in ankle vulnerability. Soft tissue rehabilitation on the calf muscles, such as foam rolling or Advanced Release Techniques®, can significantly increase biomechanical efficiency (i.e. mechanics) of the lower extremities. An exercise protocol should included self myofascial release (SMR) therapy post-workout, followed by a static stretch routine. ART therapy® is a significant form of muscular correction, which I often prescribe to numerous athletes who suffer from chronic tightness within the calves.

Ankle injuries are one of the most common injuries within the athletic and general population. Therefore, no matter the level of activity and intensity, every person should engage in a comprehensive ankle correction program.

Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness LLC © 2012

SOURCES
1. http://functionalmusclefitness.com/exercise-of-the-week/exercise-of-the-week-archive/dumbbell-front-squats/
2. http://functionalmusclefitness.com/stationary-step-ups/
3. http://functionalmusclefitness.com/ct-reverse-lunge-medicine-ball-twist/
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cC6KNrO1FM&feature=plcp

Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness LLC © 2013

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