Ankle sprains account for 15 to 30 percent of all sports injuries, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Lead author Shigeki Yokoyama wrote that an estimated 23,000 ankle sprains occur daily in the United States, with the total cost of treatment ranging between $318 to $914.
The injury occurs when the ankle twists or rolls outward or inward, tearing the ligaments connecting the three bones that form the joint. Running on uneven surfaces, and playing sports that require jumping or a quick change in direction often cause the injury. They typically take eight to 12 weeks of recovery and a previous sprain puts a person more at risk for another sprain—and osteoarthritis in the future.
How to prevent it:
“In our preventative trials, we’ve found that training reflexes results in an incredible decrease in injury rate,” says Evert Verhagen, lead author of a 2010 study on optimizing ankle sprain prevention. He says a person can improve balance and coordination by standing on one foot for 30 seconds while brushing their teeth, then switching to the other foot. After that move has been mastered, it’s time for balance board training.
In one of Verhagen’s studies, a balance board program significantly reduced ankle-sprain risk in volleyball players with histories of previous strains. Try standing on one leg with the knee flexed, keeping the balance board in a horizontal position, and working up to doing 2 x 10 repetitions of a slight squat on each leg.
“Braces and taping are really good preventative treatment as well,” Verhagen says. “But they’re not comfortable so athletes don’t want to wear them.” A 2008 study found that ankle braces and tape reduced sprains by 69 and 71 percent, respectively.