A sprain is when the ligaments that support a joint are stretched beyond their limits causing damage to that ligament. The severity can range from minor damage to a full tear of the ligament. There are many ligaments in the ankle that can be injured with the most common being the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. This is called a lateral ankle sprain.
Ankle sprains are the most common traumatic injuries in dancers. Once a ligament in the ankle is sprained, there is an increased risk of recurrent sprains. This is why it is important to take measures to prevent ankle sprains from occurring.
Wearing proper shoes is important to prevent ankle sprains. If you have a history of ankle sprains, then a more supportive style or brand of shoe may help prevent future sprains. The best way to know what will be the safest option for you is to have a professional fitting done. Make sure to replace your shoes at the recommended intervals. The more you dance on your shoes, the sooner you will need to replace them as the supportive structures will wear out.
A proper dancing surface is also a consideration. Avoid dancing on uneven surfaces. If your style of dance involves jumping, then a sprung floor is the safest option due to good shock absorption
Research shows performing core stabilization exercises can help reduce the risk of ankle sprains. There are many examples of core stabilization exercises that you can incorporate into your routine. A common core stabilization exercise is the plank.
Keeping your hip and gluteal muscles strong can help prevent increased pronation or inward rolling of your foot. This can be especially important when jumping to prevent ankle sprains. Band walks are a great way to target the hip muscles
Having strong muscles in your feet gives a good base for the ankle and helps improve stability. Here you can find specific exercises recommended by Dr. Quirolgico, Foot and Ankle Specialist, in her article titled “Home Exercises for Dancers with Sore Feet.”
Strengthening the muscles in your ankle will help give dynamic stability to the ankle and help prevent injury. A study performed by the Australian Ballet found that dancers that were unable to perform 25 single leg heel raises in parallel were more likely to be injured.
Another key factor to address is balance and proprioception. What is proprioception? Proprioception is the sensation of where you are in space. Often if you have a history of an ankle or a foot injury you can lose this sensation or it can become impaired. Performing balance exercises is a great way to improve your proprioception. Some examples of balance exercises include: single leg balance with eyes closed, the airplane, and toe taps.
Follow these tips to minimize your chance of an ankle sprain. If you do sprain your ankle, do not ignore it as it can become a recurrent condition. Reach out to a health professional specializing in dance medicine to get checked out and see what the best treatment plan is for you.