Restoring Flexibility to the Ankle
It is extremely important to stretch after experiencing an ankle injury of any kind. During the recovery phase, your body forms and lays down collagen to repair the injured area from two days, and up to 6 weeks after, the injury occurs.
If you suffer from an inversion sprain, and perform the correct stretching exercises, then you can ensure that the majority of the collagen that is being laid down, is being laid in the same direction as the tissue which is being repaired. This makes the repaired tissue stronger and more capable of performing its function in the future. However, if you do not stretch the injured area, the new collagen will be laid down in more random patterns, leading to the development of weaker tissue (scar tissue) that is easily re-injured
Here are some of the areas for which we recommend stretching exercises when our patients are recovering from an ankle injury:
• Calf muscle (gastrocnnemius and soleus) - Stretch the calf muscle as it often becomes very tight after an ankle sprain, as these structures try to protect the injured joint.
• Peroneal muscles – Stretch the peroneals (along the sides of your calf) as these muscles are often injured along with the ligaments in the ankles.
• Iliotibial Band – Yes, these tissues are in your upper leg, but there are direct fascial connections from the peroneal muscles into the IT band. A injury to the peroneal muscle may cause compensation injuries up into the IT Band. So be sure to perform stretches to release the IT Band.
• Gluteal muscles – Since the IT band is formed from the deltoid complex (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and tensor fascia latae, problems in the IT band will affect hip function. So it is important to release the muscles of the gluteals with stretches and foam rollers.
Whenever an inversion sprain occurs, the injury is usually not restricted to just the ligaments, tendons, muscle fibers, and fascial fibers. Often, the embedded neurological structures within these soft-tissue structures are also damaged. These neurological structures (golgi tendon organs, muscle spindles, and joint receptors) perform an essential role in positional control. Any damage to these structures can have the effect of decreasing stability, which can lead to chronic ankle problems.
Fortunately this damage can be repaired with exercise protocols that involve balance and proprioception. Some of the proprioceptive exercises we use with our patients at the clinic are:
• One-legged Stand
This is a good initial exercise to try, with a slow progression into partial single leg squats. Do all of this exercise within a pain free range-of-motion.
• Wobble board training
Slowly increase the difficulty of wobble board exercises from the two-legged balance exercises, into a single-leg exercise that combines full-body motions. Once you are ready, you can even try the single-legged version with your eyes closed. Note: The eyes-closed version should only be attempted after you are fully recovered and you are ready to work on increasing athletic performance.
· Upside Down Bosu Ball
The Bosu Ball is a great device for dynamically stretching and strengthening the ankle. Try this Side-to-Side Peroneal Stretch.
§ Turn the Bosu Ball upside down, balance on the flat surface, with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
§ Shift your weight to the right side so that the right edge of the Bosu Ball almost touches the ground. Then immediately shift your weight to the left side so the left edge of the Bosu ball almost touches the ground. Continue to shift from side-to-side. As you do this exercise, you should feel a stretch in the muscles along the lower outside of your leg (peroneals).
§ After a few minutes of performing this action your lower extremity muscles should start to feel fatigued.
§ Once you become comfortable with balancing the side-to-side actions, you can start integrating arm actions into this exercise. As you shift your lower extremity to the right side, swing both your arms to the left. When you shift your weight to the left side, swing your arms to the right. This simulates a downhill skiing (cross crawl) type of action that integrates all the muscles of your body.
If you are involved in a particular sport, take the time to create a balance/proprioceptive exercise that matches your specific sport. For example:
· If you are a soccer player who is rehabilitating a sprained ankle, you may want to try one-legged stand on the injured ankle, while kicking a soccer ball with the other foot. To increase the level of difficulty, try standing on a balance pad with the injured leg, and then kick the ball with the other.
· If you are a dancer suffering from an inversion sprain, try moving through your basic dance positions while on a wobble board or balance pad.
· If you are a basketball player, try standing on a wobble board with the injured leg and practice throwing hoops.
Be creative with your individual sport. Use wobble boards, balance pads, half-foam rollers, or bosu balls to rehabilitate the damage to your nervous system that is caused by an inversion sprain.
Bottom line - inversion sprains are a common, yet complex, injury. This injury can involve multiple structures across numerous joints, and may even extend a considerable distance up the body. To correctly rehabilitate the injury, you must use an approach that takes into consideration musculoskeletal connections, the nervous system, and appropriate tissue remodelling.
If you would like information about our clinic in Calgary Alberta please go to www.kinetichealth.ca.
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