Balance and agility drills can help prevent sprains and other injuries

Credit: Brian Bahr/Allsport
Proper shoe selection plays an important role in preventing sprains and other injuries. Once you sprain your ankle, however, the most important thing you can do to avoid future sprains is retrain your body through balance work.

Other preventive measures include strengthening your ankle and improving your agility. Here are some exercises that can help:

1. Balance work

With your shoes off, stand on your "bad" leg, keeping your ankles close together, and try to balance for 1 minute.

"If that's easy, do it with your eyes closed," says Janet Sobel, a physical therapist in Chevy Chase, Md. "If that's easy, stand on a softer surface. If that's easy, do it with your eyes closed. And if that's easy, go out for a run."

2. Agility drills

These include side-to-side shuffling, backward walking or running, and running in a figure-eight pattern (starting with wide loops and progressing to tighter loops as the ankle strengthens).

During this retraining process, the idea is to put minimal stress on the injured ankle initially and then, over time, increase the stress to strengthen the area.

"Our bodies have a marvelous ability to adapt to stress and get stronger, as long as the stress is applied gradually," says Thomas Clanton, M.D., chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

3. Strengthening exercises

First, sit with your legs extended and crossed, and wrap a 2-pound weight around your healing foot. Bend your foot up and out. Do three sets of 15 repetitions. As it becomes easier, increase the weight and repetitions. Jumping rope, or standing and hopping on a mini-trampoline can be effective strengthening activities, but be sure your ankle is fully healed before doing these.

Another exercise: Lie on your bed, on your "good" side, with your injured foot hanging over the edge of the bed. Wrap a 2-pound weight around your foot, then turn your foot up and slowly lower it. As above, do three sets of 15 repetitions.


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