The area of the body with the highest incident of injury in the soccer athlete is the foot and ankle with ankle sprains making up approximately 15% of the total injuries. An ankle sprain is commonly caused by rolling over the outside of the ankle resulting in overstretching of the tendons and ligaments on the lateral aspect of the ankle. The tendons and ligaments provide stability for the ankle joint and it is critical that they are strong in the running athlete.
There are 3 degrees of ankle sprains: little fibrous tearing of the tissue with good joint stability, up to 50% of tearing with moderate pain/swelling and instability of the ankle, and more than 50% of tissue tearing or a complete rupture with an unstable WB'ing joint.
Immediately following an ankle injury, or sprain, the athlete should be evaluated in order to determine the degree of injury and to rule out anything more severe. Treatment approach will vary depending on the severity of the injury. If properly cared for from the onset of the injury, the athlete with a first degree sprain could potentially return to full soccer participation within two weeks. However, second and third degree injuries require much more attention and will require longer treatment which is why it is so important to be proactive! In order to ensure proper recovery and return to play following an ankle injury, the athlete should accomplish 7 goals with a physical therapist or athletic trainer including:
1. Controlling pain and inflammation
2. Restoring flexibility
3. Restoring muscular strength and endurance
4. Restoring balance and proprioception
5. Restoring cardiovascular endurance
6. Returning to functional training
7. Returning to sport-specific training
Nevertheless, an athlete can dramatically decrease the risk of injury by engaging in a lower-body strengthening program that targets all eight benchmark factors stated above.