Prevention of Ankle Sprains in Soccer Players

Soccer requires a lot of sudden stops, cutting, jumping and landing movements, which have all been shown to increase the risk of lower extremity injuries, especially to the ankle. Ankle sprains account for about 80% of all soccer related injuries, and the average time lost from play is roughly 48 days. Given the high prevalence and long recovery time associated with ankle injuries, implementing prevention strategies is key to keeping athletes healthy on the field.

Mechanism of Injury

50% of soccer related ankle sprains occur during contact with another player. Other common mechanisms include:

  • Overuse;
  • Tripping on grass;
  • Jumping, twisting and landing;
  • Tackling;
  • Shooting/kicking.

What are the risk factors for an ankle sprain?

  • If you have sustained an ankle injury in the past, you are 7 times more likely to injure your ankle again;
  • Muscle tightness (specifically in the calves);
  • Slower reaction time;
  • Poor proprioception;
  • Poor balance;
  • Playing on artificial turf;
  • Poor lower limb power.

While the above risk factors are modifiable and can be changed, it is predicted that 30% of ankle sprains occur due to a chance event that cannot be avoided.

What exercises can you do to prevent an ankle sprain?

  1. Proprioceptive exercises are designed to optimize the ability of the dynamic stabilizers to protect the joint. Exercises should work on balance in a static position, progressing to dynamic movements, including equipment such as a bosu or balance board to allow adaptation to unstable surfaces. These exercises will eventually become more sport specific to include balancing tasks, along with kicking or throwing motions. The greatest benefit in injury reduction comes from exercises that are sport specific and include a cognitive task at the same time (i.e., reacting to stimuli or decision making).
    • Examples:
      Easy: Eyes open single leg balance; eyes open single leg balance with leg swings;
      Moderate: As above, but with eyes closed;
      Harder: Standing on a bosu/balance disc/pillow with single leg balance adding leg swings or ball toss.