What an Ankle Sprain Does to Your Biomechanics

17 February 2015
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What an Ankle Sprain Does to Your Biomechanics

A new season is starting and things just don’t feel right. Your movement, your jumps, your top-line speed — none of it feels on point. What’s missing? You’ve been careful about your nutrition. You stretch dynamically in warm ups to maximize your effectiveness on the field. Is it possible an ankle sprain from last year is influencing your current performance? Is there a chance your sports biomechanics are little off because of a small injury, or unresolved ankle sprain?

What really happens when you sprain an ankle?

An ankle sprain is a soft-tissue injury where stabilizing ligaments of your ankle are pulled, stretched, or torn. This injury, no matter how slight, can lead to proprioception loss, strength loss, and balance loss. Ligaments, tendons, joint capsule and vascular structures can be affected by a sprain. In some cases, dislocation or fractures can occur.

So what is proprioception and why would an ankle injury contribute to deficiencies in that area?

Proprioception is sensory information your body integrates to equip you with a sense of movement, change of speed and position within your environment. Understood at a conscious and unconscious level, proprioception provides input to allow for baseline function and the highest levels of movement.

The ankle, as a joint comprising of muscle, bone, cartilage, and nerves, functions as a sensory receptor site for proprioception. These receptors can be found within tendons, muscle spindles and joint capsules. When injured, the ankle complex receptors detect altered input, then send modified signals regarding motion and positioning to the brain. You might not feel specific pain when you engage in physical activity, but the deficit will have altered your biomechanics enough that it feels different during high performance tasks.

Strength Loss

Likewise, an ankle injury or sprain can create strength loss. Typically, what happens in an ankle sprain is a pull, stretch, or partial tear of ankle ligaments. If the sprain feels slight (grade I), you might have tried to “walk it off” which could contribute to an improperly healed ligament or surrounding structures. Within the first day of an ankle injury, you want to reduce swelling, protect the ankle to ensure proper healing, and move through a series of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Once the swelling reduces and the pain resides, then you can start thinking about rehabilitation practices to bring strength and stability back to the ankle.

Balance Loss

Lastly, linked both to strength and proprioception loss is the loss of balance. Research has shown that athletes that have sustained ankle sprains have a dramatically reduced balance ability. In fact, balance tests can be used as a good indicator of previous ankle sprains due to its consistent link with proprioception issues.

Given these issues, a rehabilitation program is necessary for athletes recovering from an ankle injury. Depending on the severity of the injury, physical therapy can provide education, functional exercise and activity progression designed to achieve comprehensive strength, mobility, and dynamic stability to the high performing athlete.

When properly applied, these programs will assist the athlete in maximizing their functional ability. This will equate in lowering injury potential and promoting performance.

Have you had an ankle injury recently? Stop by G4 and team with us to achieve your maximum potential!

Photo credit: Phil Warren via Creative Commons

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