Exercise tips, Running

Exercise tips, Running

August 20, 2019

How to prevent ankle sprain on the trail

Men running on a trail

If you’re out on the trail on a long run, the last thing you need is an injury – especially an ankle injury. Ankle sprains are commonplace on trails because of uneven terrain and loose gravel. They can also happen because of weak, tight, or tired ankles.

With runners ankle sprains happen frequently. Sprains happen as ankles turn in at a degree that causes ligaments to stretch, twist, or tear. Ligaments hold bones together at the different joints in the body. Muscles are held to bones with tendons. A sprain involves ligaments, while a strain involves tendons and/or muscles. No matter what, they both hurt and they both will slow runners. Both have similar symptoms, but sprains tend to take longer to heal than strains do.

The keys to avoiding rolled ankles

Fortunately, there are things that runners can do to decrease the possibility of ankle sprains. There are three key factors that help prevent sprains. They include good balance as well as flexibility and strength in the ankles and in the rest of the legs. While these three factors are not easy to develop in a short period of time, there is hope even for the weakest of ankles.

Taping an ankle can help

If you have to run on the trail before you are able to build strength, flexibility, and balance, you can always use tape or a brace to stabilize the ankle. There are ankle braces that can help keep the ankle from turning. Taping an ankle is not an easy task, but with plenty of 1.5-inch tape, a pair of gauze pads, and some comfortable pre-wrap, the job is manageable. The key is to stabilize the heel to prevent the ankle from turning during a trail run.

How to stretch to avoid ankle rolls

Stretching before a trail run is also useful prior to hitting the trails. When you are preparing for the run, use a mix of stretching techniques, both static and dynamic. When the hamstrings and calves are tight, injuries can occur up and down the legs. But, endurance runners might not want to overstretch or only use static stretches, as reported in the Research in Sports Medicine journal. In a study conducted in 2015, researchers in the United Kingdom and Australia found “Endurance athletes are at high risk of overuse injuries such as iliotibial band syndrome, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis, and the literature suggests that stretching cannot reduce the prevalence of these injuries.”

When it comes to dynamic stretching, researchers found that running performance improved when static and dynamic stretching are paired. The same researchers found that stretching after running was also beneficial. The studies were published in the IDEA Fitness Journal.

Dynamic stretching is active stretching that mimics the movements of the upcoming exercise. So, the best dynamic stretches for runners include leg swings, plantar-flexor stretches, leg-flexor stretches, butt-kickers, and front lunges with hamstring stretches. These mimic the movements that runners use, so the legs are prepared and warmed before running.

Using yoga to build flexibility and balance

Yoga can help build balance and flexibility, which can directly benefit trail runners. In a study analyzing whether yoga improves physical fitness, Bikram Yoga was found to improve flexibility and balance so it can function optimally. This study was conducted at Boise State University and looked at how eight weeks of Bikram Yoga helps the body.

Bikram Yoga involves 26 postures done in a room heated to at least 95 °F with at least 40% humidity. The same 26 postures are done in every class and they are designed to stretch every muscle. In the study conducted through Boise State University, this style of yoga was found to help treat muscular imbalances with the goal of realigning the body over time. This can directly help the ankle joints as they add strength, balance, and flexibility through regular class attendance.

Avoid drinking alcohol while conditioning

Drinking alcohol can actually increase the possibility of injuries on a trail run. In a study published in Sports Medicine (Auckland, NZ), the relationship to nutrition and sports performance was researched. One clear finding was realized: alcohol impairs muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which helps the body grow, repair and maintain muscles. If you are working on strengthening your ankles, the study found that it is best to avoid drinking it at all. The researchers saw that even little bits of alcohol slow wound healing by reducing the inflammatory response that aids in healing. It was also found to increase muscle loss in rats.

Develop a trail-running gait

Runners have found that they often have to change their gait when they run on a trail versus running on pavement. Over-striding is not recommended by expert runners. Instead, one way to prevent rolled ankles is by shortening the stride and landing lightly. With a shorter stride, the foot lands quickly and the rest of the leg up to the hip can quickly respond. In a nutshell, a shorter stride gives runners more control over their landings, thus reducing the chance for rolled ankles.


About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is considered as the best Anchorage chiropractor. Originally from California, he received his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College in Oregon. He is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and volunteering.

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