It’s May, and outdoor soccer season is upon us! And with soccer season comes soccer injuries.
One of the most common injuries sustained while playing soccer is a lateral ankle sprain.1 While a lateral sprain may seem like a minor injury, untreated sprains can lead to lost game time, chronic instability, and repeat injuries. Some studies have shown up to a 70% injury re-occurrence rate.2,3
How do lateral sprains occur?
Lateral sprains typically occur when the sole of the foot rolls inwards under your ankle. This stretches or sometimes tears the ligaments on the outside of your ankle. The most commonly affected ligaments are the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), and the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL). The ATFL attaches to the talus bone, near the front and outside of your ankle, and the CFL attaches to your calcaneus (heel) bone, at the side of your ankle. These ligaments help to provide stability to the small bones of your ankle. If they are compromised by a tear, chronic instability leading to repeat sprains can occur.
Lateral ankle sprains often occur in soccer if control is lost while running or jumping, which can occur due to fatigue, lack of ankle stability, a sudden change in ground surface, stepping on the foot of another player, or a blow to the inside of the leg from an opponent during a slide tackle.
Risk factors for lateral sprains
Risk factors for ankle sprains include poor ankle strength, poor proprioception (aka joint position sense), and a history of previous ankle injury. Luckily – aside from a history of sprains – these are things you can control.
Rehab and Prevention of lateral sprains
So, what’s the best way to prevent repeat sprains? A recent meta-analysis of systematic reviews (a very high level of evidence) has shown that a combination of bracing, exercise (strengthening, combined with neuromuscular and proprioceptive training), and manual therapy significantly reduces the re-occurrence of lateral sprains.4
Therapy bands can be used to provide resistance to strengthen the muscles around the ankle, balance discs and wobble boards are used to train joint proprioception, as are closed eye exercises, and lace-up braces can be used to provide external support and help keep you playing until your natural stability improves.
So, if you do get a lateral sprain – don’t just play through the pain – book an appointment to figure out bracing and exercise options to bulletproof your ankles and keep you in the game.
Written by Aislinn Braun – Registered Physiotherapist at Burlington Sports Therapy
1. Wong P, Hong Y. Soccer injury in the lower extremities. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005;39:473–482
2. Anandacoomarasamy A, Barnsley L. Long term outcomes of inversion ankle injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine.2005: 39:e14; discussion e14.
3. Konradsen L, Bech L, Ehrenbjerg M, et al. Seven years follow-up after ankle inversion trauma. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.2002;12:129–35.
4. Doherty C, Bleakley C, Delahunt E, Holden S. Treatment and prevention of acute and recurrent ankle sprain: an overview of systematic reviews with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;51:113–125.