Ankle Strength is an ongoing concern. The ankle joint – The area I spend so long taping each week. Why?
Because (1.) This is one of the most common sites of injury I see. (2.) A lack of following rehabilitation protocols following injury (3.) People don’t protect this joint in the first place.
Improving Ankle Strength
During the game of American Football, the ankle is put under enormous strain by large loads placed through it. This pressure on the ankle strength occurs when jumping, accelerating, driving, landing and during cutting manoeuvres.
Unlike a sport such as sprinting where the athlete runs in one straight line, the majority of American Football players are required to change direction at speed, thus the load is not evenly distributed through the foot and addition pressure is put on to the ankle strength.
Additionally, at grass roots level, teams aren’t always so lucky to play on an even grass/astro pitch.
Instead, we visit grass pitches with plenty of pot holes that have frozen ground or are water-logged. This presents a more challenging picture for the body, as the foot and ankle are its first contact and thus ankle strength is challenged.
Ankle Strength – Proprioception
Therefore it is vitally important that the ankle is able to adjust to its surroundings. In conditioning terms we call this proprioception. This is essentially training to balance on different surfaces so that the ankle is strong enough to correct its positioning if forced or placed into a position which could put it at risk of injury (such as turned inwards or outwards).
Ankle Strength – Injury Prevention
So how do we avoid such injuries? Performing single leg exercises such as single leg hops and balances are incredibly important.
We may run using two legs, however we only have one foot in contact with the floor at any one time. Thus it is important to train using single leg exercises to crossover to running, whilst also correcting any asymmetries.
These can be combined with change of direction drills. Of course it is vitally important that the individual can safely and properly move on both legs prior to single leg work. This reduces the risk of injury when training on one leg.
Unlike what you might think, there is a crossover between rehabilitation and preventative exercises. It is where you start your programme that is different. For the athlete recovering from injury their exercises will be very basic and these will slowly be progressed to something more challenging. However, as previously stated, this doesn’t mean all non-injured athletes can start performing single leg bounds. This is an advanced exercise method and must be performed properly or risk injury.
Ankle Strength – Taping and Bracing
In addition to strength training, taping and bracing on game day can help reduce the risk of injury, but the cost for the individual or team can be huge by the end of season. For many, I believe tape often acts as a placebo.
Personally I would much rather have the confidence in my ankles by having strengthened them properly than rely on tape. I do support the use of athletic taping in the correct useage i.e. if it gives the returning player added confidence. However for those players using tape due to laziness in strengthening the lower limb, I would not be so happy.
Of course there are some injuries, such as contact injuries, which cannot be prevented. However we can do our best to avoid by taking preventative exercise measures.
On a final note, I believe that it is the coaches and players who should assume responsibility for preventing injury risk. Players should also follow a comprehensive rehabilitation programme prior to returning to play to ensure they do not put themselves at risk of injury once again.
Ankle strengthening exercises to follow soon!