How to Prevent Ankle Sprains: 3 Essential Tips for Runners

Want to learn how to prevent ankle sprains?
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😀If you like running, you know an ankle injury can force you take a break from the thing that you love.
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🏃‍♀️Run enough road or trail miles, and chances are pretty good you're going to encounter a stumble-and-fall-and-roll-your-ankle situation.
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🦶So how do you prevent ankle sprains?
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✅Check out these THREE essential tips from runner, coach and WeeViews Ambassador Abby Lock to build ankle stability, strength and balance to keep going.

🦶Runners beware: The ankle-sprain scenario

😀Picture this: you’re out for a lovely trail run on a crisp fall morning.
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The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the canopy of leaves above are brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow.
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There’s a new, thin blanket of fallen leaves covering the trail and beneath it, roots and rocks studding the path before you.
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As you pick up the pace, relishing the cool air in contrast to the sticky summer heat that you’ve been slogging through over the past several months, your attention drifts to matters of the mind.
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🦶Then all of a sudden, your right foot catches on a hidden root and your ankle folds under your weight.
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😲You hear a stomach wrenching POP and as pain halts your progress, and your ankle begins to swell–ah the dreaded ankle sprain! 

🦶Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries trail runners experience.

😭And saying that they aren’t fun is an understatement. 
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While ankle sprains happen in an instant, the healing process can take weeks, or even months depending on the grade of sprain. 
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While we can’t promise that you’ll come away from this article with 100% guaranteed ankle sprain prevention...
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🏃‍♀️We can tell you that there are some awesome tools and exercises to keep you out there exploring on your own two (healthy) feet and ankles. 

🦶Ankle sprains: What are they really?

An ankle sprain, as defined by Physiopedia...

  • is what happens when the ankle moves outside of its normal range of motion. 
  • The ligaments inside the ankle are overstretched or torn during the process. 

🦶In order to better understand the descriptions of ankle injury and movement, here are some terms that are helpful to know: 

  • Lateral: away from the midline of the body
  • Medial: toward the midline of the body 
  • Foot Inversion: the tilting of the sole of the foot toward the midline of the body
  • Foot Eversion: the tilting of the sole of the foot away from the midline of the body

🦶Lateral ligament ankle sprains account for 85% of all sprains.

  • They occur when your foot inverts and your ankle rolls to the outside. 
  • However, it’s also possible to damage the medial ligaments in an eversion sprain when your ankle collapses inward.

🦶Ankle sprains are classified as grade I, II, or III depending on severity and ligament damage.

  • Grade I being a slight overstretching of ligament fibers that might have some swelling and tenderness. 
  • Grade III indicates a complete rupture of the ligament that may be accompanied by loss of function and significant swelling/tenderness. 

🏃‍♀️So what's a runner to do?.
If you want to learn how to prevent ankle sprains, these three tips will help... 

🦶Ankle Sprain Prevention Tip #1:

Tape Your Ankles!

Ankle taping is one of the easiest and quickest ways to boost your confidence on trails.
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Adding ankle tape to your arsenal of tools can be the difference between a stellar day of gnar-gnar and hiking vs. limping it out.
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Mountain athlete and coach, Josh Ried, has been using this taping technique for the past four years.
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It has spared him many an ankle sprain on the technical terrain of the Catskill Mountains where he cut his trail running teeth and out west in the high country of southwest Colorado! 
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“Ankle taping has been an absolute downhill game changer,” says Josh. 

Ankle Sprain Prevention Tip #1: Tape Your Ankles

As a disclaimer, ankle tape might not totally prevent an ankle sprain.
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But it can increase your ankle stability and reduce the likelihood that a sprain will be a severe one. 
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It’s also important to consider your ankle health as a whole, including its mobility and strength, so don’t miss the other two helpful tips to follow! 

Here are several ways to tape your ankle:

🦶Step 1: Choose the right tape

There are so many types of athletic tape on the market, but the one that stands out for taping ankles to prevent sprains is Leukotape. 

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Leukotape will last through all kinds of tough trail conditions–stream crossings, sand, and sweaty feet included.

  • Leukotape also has the ideal tension/flexibility ratio for reinforcing your ankles. 
  • It’s easy enough to rip by hand (no scissors necessary), and it’s affordable. 
  • You can purchase three rolls on Amazon for ~$33. 
  • If you run trails regularly, a single roll should last 1-2 months. 
  • Plus, it’s versatile as a blister prevention tool! 

❌There are two downsides to Leukotape worth mentioning...

  • The adhesive is STRONG and will leave a residue on your skin when you remove the tape. Leukotape sells an adhesive removal solution, but warm water with soap is enough most of the time. 
  • One thing Leukotape won’t leave on you is your leg hair, so be prepared for a trendy wax line. 

🦶Step 2: Perfect your taping technique.

Below, we have two techniques–the half and full stirrup. 

  • Full stirrup. The full stirrup is for runners who are prone to both inversion and eversion sprains. If you have flat feet, or are an overpronator, try the full stirrup! 
  • Half stirrup. If you’re a runner who usually finds themselves with inversion sprains, you can also use the full stirrup, but you might benefit from a half stirrup too. 

For both methods:

  • Prep your feet/ankles. Do not lube your feet before taping! Brush off the bottoms of your feet and remove any recently applied lotion or balm with alcohol.
  • Kneel with one foot out in front of you or place your foot on a bench or step. Have your roll of Leukotape close by! 

🦶Full Stirrup: Follow steps A - G

Full Stirrup: Step A

  • Measure. Measure the length of tape you’ll need for your anchor point that will hold the stirrup in place. 
  • Unroll. Do so by unrolling the tape and applying the non adhesive side to your skin roughly 1-2” above your ankle bone. 
  • Anchor. Your anchor point should not fully encircle your lower leg just in case you experience swelling during your run. To construct a full stirrup, you’ll want the anchor point to form a semi-circle around your lower leg above both the lateral and medial ankle bones. 
  • Wrap. It can wrap around the front or the back of your lower leg–whichever is most comfortable. 

Tip: to make the tape stick in cooler conditions, create heat by rubbing the tape on major adherence points. 

Full Stirrup: Step B

  •  Measure the length you’ll need for a full stirrup by unrolling the tape and applying the non-adhesive side to your foot and the medial and lateral sides of your ankle. 
  • The midline of the stirrup should cover both of the bony prominences of your medial and lateral ankle bones. 

Full Stirrup: Step C

Start on the medial side and slightly invert your ankle as you adhere the tape to the bottom of your foot and medial side of the ankle. 

Full Stirrup: Step D

On the lateral aspect of your ankle, apply the tape as you slightly evert your ankle. 

Full Stirrup: Step E

Double or triple the stirrup layers of tape depending on how much support you want.

  • Tip: Before you apply another layer, test the tension and support of the first layer by standing with your foot flat on the ground so that you can adjust/compensate in the second layer. 

Full Stirrup: Step F

Apply a single reinforcement section of tape over the original anchor piece to cover the top of each end of the stirrup. 

Full Stirrup: Step G

When your foot is on the ground you should feel support from the tape on the inside (preventing you from everting too far) and outside (preventing the more common inversion sprain) simultaneously. 

You should not have much lateral movement of the ankle joint in either direction, but your range of motion for running should not be impinged. 

  • Tip: Wear crew socks or half crew socks to maximize how much of the tape is covered by your sock. This will make the tape job last even longer! 

🦶Half Stirrup: Follow Steps A - F

Half Stirrup: Step A

  • Measure the length of tape you’ll need for your anchor point that will hold the stirrup in place. 
  • Do so by unrolling the tape and applying the non adhesive side to your skin roughly 1-2” above your ankle bone. Your anchor point should not fully encircle your lower leg just in case you experience swelling during your run. 
  • To construct a half stirrup, you’ll want the anchor point to sit above the lateral ankle bone and be long enough to stick, but it doesn’t have to be as long as the anchor section for the full stirrup. 
  • Tip: to make the tape stick in cooler conditions, create heat by rubbing the tape on major adherence points. 

Half Stirrup: Step B

  •  Measure the length of tape you’ll need for the half stirrup by unrolling the tape.
  • Apply the non-adhesive side to the bottom of your foot and the lateral side of your ankle. 
  • Tip: The tape should be centered on and cover the bony prominence of your ankle joint. 

Half Stirrup: Step C

  •  Adhere the tape across the bottom of your foot starting at your instep and working toward the outside of your foot and up over the ankle joint.
  • Tip: The tape should only be anchored on the bottom of your foot–not under too much tension. 

Half Stirrup: Step D

Before you set the tape on the ankle joint, slightly evert your ankle and adhere the tape. 

Half Stirrup: Step E

  • You can layer the half stirrup much like the full stirrup. 
  • Add a reinforcement strip at the top of your half stirrup. 
  • The reinforcement can wrap around your lower leg as much as it feels comfortable, but should not make a full circle just in case your lower leg swells during your run. 

Half Stirrup: Step F

  • When your foot is on the ground, you should feel the tape’s support on the outside of your ankle. 
  • You should not be able to invert your ankle very far, but your natural range of motion when running shouldn’t be impinged. 

Tip: wear crew socks or half crew socks to maximize how much of the tape is covered by your sock. This will make the tape job last even longer! 

🦶Step 3: Test out your taping on a low stakes run.

If you aren’t used to taping your ankles for support, don’t try it out on an important long run or race day. 
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Always trial new products and practices in advance of the big days! 
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It’s worth noting that adding tape to the bottoms of your feet may contribute to additional friction and the formation of blisters depending on the conditions and your hydration status. 

🦶Ankle Sprain Prevention Tip #2:

Invest in a Balance Trainer

Since running is largely considered a single-leg sport, balance training is essential for runners of trail and road alike.

🏃‍♀️In order to run:

  • The body must be able to properly balance;
  • The lower leg muscles and the ankle/foot complex must be strong enough to provide stability with each stride. 

Not only will a balance trainer increase your strength and coordination, but it will also boost your proprioception–the body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location.
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👉According to this evidence-based review, proprioceptive training reduces the rates of ankle sprains in the athletic population, including those with and those without a history of ankle sprains!

Want to improve your balance for running?

There are two types of balance trainers that will level up your ankle game: 

Author using a Mobo board as part of her physical therapy rehab protocol.

1. Rocker board

Rocker board: usually a wooden board with a rocker attached to the base. It allows you to rock forward/ backwards or side to side depending on the position of the board. Rocker boards are usually considered a good starting point to balance training. 

Popular rocker boards: 

2. Wobble board

Wobble board: a board designed with a fulcrum attached to the base in the shape of a half sphere. This allows the board to rock in any direction. The harder the fulcrum materials are, the more difficult it is to balance. Wobble boards are a bit more challenging than a rocker board. 

Popular wobble boards:

Practice to improve balance & stability

Once you have your balance trainer of choice, simple single leg balances for 30-40s are a good place to start, gradually progressing hold times.
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Balance trainers are easy to integrate into your day; try the single leg holds while you’re watching TV, folding laundry, checking emails, washing dishes, or listening to your favorite podcast. 
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After the holds become too easy you can add in dynamic movements like trunk rotations and single leg squats while balancing on the board. For an additional proprioceptive challenge, you can try tossing a ball between your hands while balancing.
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Want a structured routine?

👇Check out these videos demoing a few different balance trainers!👇

🦶Ankle Sprain Prevention Tip #3:

Incorporate Strength & Prehab Exercises That Target the Foot, Ankle, and Lower Leg

On top of your balance training, having an arsenal of foot and ankle strengthening exercises can be a game changer for guarding against ankle sprains and other common running injuries. 

Ankle Alphabets

  • Sitting in a chair with one leg extended out in front, imagine that your big toe is a pen, draw the alphabet. 
  • Repeat on both sides. That’s it! Ankle alphabets improve the ankle’s natural range of motion. 
Starting position for banded ankle eversion
End range of motion for banded ankle eversion

Resistance Band Ankle Eversion

  • Find a sturdy piece of furniture that you can anchor a miniband or resistance band to. 
  • This exercise can be done seated or standing. Loop the band around your midfoot. 
  • You should feel the tension from the anchored band on the outside of your foot. 
  • Evert your foot by tilting the sole of your foot away from yourself. 
  • Take this to your end range of motion. 
  • Return to the starting position. 
  • Keep the tempo slow and controlled, including holds at the top of the motion to start. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps. 
Starting position for banded ankle inversion
End range of motion for banded ankle inversion

Resistance Band Ankle Inversion

  • Find a sturdy piece of furniture that you can anchor a miniband or resistance band to. 
  • This exercise can be done seated or standing. Loop the band around your midfoot. 
  • You should feel the tension from the anchored band on the inside of your foot. 
  • Invert your foot by bringing the sole of your foot toward yourself. Take this to your end range of motion. 
  • Return to the starting position. 
  • Keep the tempo slow and controlled, including holds at the top of the motion to start. 
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps. 
Starting position
dorsiflexion

Resistance Banded Dorsiflexion

  • Seated on the ground, with one knee bent and the other straight in front of you, loop a band around your foot and anchor it to a table or other sturdy piece of furniture in front of you. 
  • Keep the band anchor point as level across from you as possible. 
  • Use a resistance band, miniband, or Theraband that provides enough resistance to your ankle to be challenging, but light enough to do 10-15 controlled reps with full range of motion. 
  • Bend your foot up against the tension of the band, raising your toes to the ceiling (dorsiflexion). 
  • Return to starting position, or, if your band is secure enough, point your toes (plantar flexion) and repeat the motion. 
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps. 

👉According to Runners Connect, this exercise improves the strength of your shin muscles (Tibialis Anterior) that plays a role in slowing the transition from heel strike to midstance and it also stiffens the ankle during mid-stance, which allows the foot/ankle to act like a spring with each stride. 

Single Leg Lateral Hops

  • Start by standing with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Then, jump to the right, landing with only your right foot on the ground and your left foot lifted. 
  • Jump to the left, landing with only your left foot on the ground and your right foot lifted. Repeat for 10-15 reps. Do 2-3 sets. 

Tip: Try to land softly on the balls of your feet to reduce impact on joints. Use your arms to propel your lateral jumps–just like you do with your arm swing while running! 

To make it harder: jump wider or land on a slightly unstable surface like a balance pad or exercise mat 

The three main movements in a single leg RDL curl and press.

Single Leg RDL w/ Curl and Press

  • Setup for this exercise as you would to perform a single leg Romanian deadlift. 
  • With the dumbbell on the same side of the leg you are balancing on, draw yourself up from the single leg deadlift and curl the weight.
  • Then, press it above your head and pause for a couple of seconds before bringing the dumbbell back into a curl position and another single leg RDL. 
  • You should feel your entire lower leg and foot working to keep you stable. 

Tip: Choose a light enough weight that you can complete 10 reps of this exercise. Each rep is slow and controlled. The entire rep should take approximately 5-6s. 

  • As the weight moves further away from your foot, the demands of the foot increase. 
  • The exercise becomes more proprioceptive as you press the weight above your head. 
  • You engage more of the kinetic chain with the increased instability and time under tension.

Follow these THREE tips to prevent ankle sprains

Be sure to save this article for later and trial out the:

  • Taping technique
  • Balance trainer routines, and...
  • Ankle strengthening exercises

With all three tips at your disposal, you are ready to tear up the trails with confidence! 

👇Let us know what other ankle sprain prevention techniques you use in the comments!👇 

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Abigail Lock
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Durango, CO
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Endurance athlete with a proclivity for mountain running and high altitude desert dwelling. Owner of Vital Ascent Coachin...

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