Did you know there’s a particular kind of ankle sprain that commonly affects both those who are athletic and those who have a more sedentary lifestyle? Inversion ankle sprains, which involve the ankle turning inward, often require physical therapy and take a decent amount of time for recovery. As a result, there’s plenty of information out there about what causes inversion ankle sprain injuries and how to prevent them.
So what do athletic and sedentary ankle-sprainers have in common? Many lack hip abductor strength. Weak hip abductor muscles — which include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus — cause a person’s foot to hit the ground with the heel closer to the body’s midline than usual. Picture tightrope walking in which the hip on the same side of the body as the stepping foot remains off to the side; such a position causes the body’s center of gravity to put unnecessary stress on the ankle, encouraging the ankle to roll inward. The result? A painful inversion ankle sprain.
Aside from avoiding actually walking on a tightrope, you can avoid this kind of inversion ankle sprain by strengthening your hip abductor muscles. By doing so, you’ll alter your natural striking position when walking and running, positioning the ankle in a way that leaves it far less vulnerable for a sprain. One hip-abduction strengthening exercise is simple side-walking with a stretchy band around your ankles, as seen in this video.
The very same gluteal or hip abductor muscles whose weakness can contribute to an inversion sprain can be strengthened with an exercise well-known and much-loved by physical therapists everywhere: the clamshell. It’s portable, simple, safe, and effective, so you’ll want to give it a try. The starting position has you lying on your side, with knees and hips flexed, ideally at about 60 degrees, for optimal recruitment of the gluteal muscles. Simply lift the top knee off the bottom one and hold your elevated knee in a raised position for approximately 4 seconds. Make sure not to cheat by turning the top of your pelvis backward; instead, be sure to keep it straight and perpendicular to the floor. If you feel burning along the side and posterior areas of your hip, you’re doing it right!
Another Prevention Tip
In addition to strengthening those hip abductors, one way to avoid inversion sprains is to make sure you always walk or run on flat, predictable surfaces. On uneven terrain, the ligaments surrounding your ankles and knees simply can’t do their jobs properly. So as scenic as they may be, trails are poor choices for exercise. Unpaved paths are typically plagued with divots and other incongruities that heighten the risk of a sprained ankle.
Additional risk factors include wet leaves and other debris: Since liquid lessens the friction on surfaces, the physics is simply not in your favor if you want to avoid injury! Add in poor lighting and potential obstacles and other distractions, and hopefully you understand why trails are bad ideas.
If you have an ankle sprain in your past, proper treatment can help you avoid long-term effects of that injury.
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PhysioDC of Washington, D.C. is a boutique physical therapy center which helps patients recover, strengthen, and return to healthy living after they travel or on a day-to-day lifestyle. Located in downtown Washington, D.C., PhysioDC is an excellent resource to contact for all joint and body pain. For more information on physical therapy for your body, visit PhysioDC at www.physiodc.com. PhysioDC is located in downtown D.C. at 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 330 (at the corners of K Street and Connecticut Avenue NW).
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