The ankle injury [sprain] is one of the most common injuries I personally have seen at every age & level from youth to pro. If you have played soccer through high school then you have probably sprained your ankle. If you know how to rehab it you will be back on the field faster. You will also save lots of money from having to pay for a physical therapist. There are different ways to sprain an ankle in terms of what part of the ankle but I am going to show you a few tips that will help strengthen it no matter which part is hurt.* Note: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
3 common ways players sprain their ankle
1. Getting tackled low and having another player roll up on top of you or even just their foot and body weight forcing your foot to roll the wrong way.
2. Simply just stepping wrong or in a small hole and having the foot roll on the outside of the foot. Sometimes it’s minor and is better in a few minutes while other times it takes months to heal. After a few weeks the ankle starts to feel better, so people stop rehabbing. Continued rehab is vital for full recovery.
3. Stepping on another player’s foot on accident, which causes the foot to do the same as #2… You see this a lot watching basketball while players are down under the basket trying to get in position.
7 ways to strengthen your ankle
One leg balance first few days of rehab
Balance on one leg for 10-20 seconds.
If that’s easy then try with your eyes closed.
I recommend doing this with your weak foot and strong foot. This gives your ankle time to recover between sets (3 sets).
Once you heal up and get stronger, continue doing these exercises to help prevent another ankle injury.
Calf raises help strengthen ankles
Raising up on your toes with no weight is going to be one of the best things you can do.
When you have an ankle sprain or even when you don’t, it will strengthen all the muscles and ligaments around the joint.
I recommend doing this with your eyes closed. The smaller fast twitch muscles work harder, which gives more strength in that area.
Curling your toes using a towel to roll up.
With the bottom of your foot on a hard surface like tile, use your toes to pull the towel close to you.
Doing this will make the smaller muscles in your foot and ankle to work & strengthen.
Once you do this just straighten the towel and keep repeating (10+ times)
Many great exercises to help strengthen your ankle!
You can do 4 easy exercises that will strengthen all around your ankle. For some of them you will need to tie it to a heavy table or something that will stay in place.
You simply wrap the band around your foot and pull your foot away to create the force that will strengthen your ankle.
2 of the 4 exercises you can just hold with your hand. The other 2 you will need to use the table or have a partner help hold it.
Since this is something you have to do every day during your rehab, I recommend you find something like a table or the leg of your bed to tie to. This way you don’t have to depend on someone else helping you when you need it.
Great for not only ankle rehab but your core and knee as well.
Plus it really is fun!
I remember the first time I got one a few years back, I was in the garage training on it.
Bosu’s are very durable too, as I have had the same one for 6 years and I use it often.
If you’re ankle injury is in the last few days don’t use this. First make sure you can balance on hard flat ground.
For the healthy ankle sand is a great way to strengthen it.
If you’re coming off a fresh ankle injury then don’t use the sand because it’s uneven and could irritate the ankle injury.
By simply walking or running in sand is good for ankle strength, but try to use the good sand that is light and also a flat surface, not a high slope like some beaches.
If you just walk on hard packed down sand that’s not going to do anything for you.
If you’re at the beach doing this you have to be careful because many beaches have that slight slope, which is not ideal and can cause shin-splints or other injuries.
Here at GFT we actually have a Summer Sand Training Clinic that last 10 weeks. A couple dozen middle & high school players sign up for it and have a blast.
Time frame for ankle injury
Once you first injure your ankle you want to RICE [Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate] for the first 48 hours.
If you can RICE every hour do it.
The first 2 days are the most important times of the whole process. It can really get a lot of that swelling down.
After this process of RICE in the first 48 hours, you want to start the rehab / strength.
Start really easy with rolling up a towel with the bottom of your toes. Or a simple balance exercise that requires all those ligaments and muscles to work.
Ankle injuries can last a few weeks or up to a full year.
Once the first few days are over, you need to strengthen the ankle.
It’s really easy to forget to do this once our ankle feels 80% because we think it’s going to be 100% any day.
If the pain doesn’t go away within a few months, you might want to get a chiropractor to adjust your ankle. I’m not a fan of chiropractors myself, but I can tell you they fixed my ankle twice after it wouldn’t heal for 1 year.
After a few weeks of going to the chiro just 1 time, you should be back to normal again.
Is wearing an ankle brace good?
I often see players using an ankle brace…
First thing I ask them is “Did you know that wearing that brace weakens your ankle?” And 9 out of 10 times they didn’t know that was the case.
If you wear an ankle brace it will weaken your ankle because it is doing some of the work that your muscles and ligaments should be doing. After a while it will start to weaken those areas.
So should players even wear it and what is it for if it’s going to weaken the ankle instead of help it?
The brace will help because its supporting your injured area, but without rehab it will weaken. You must continue to do rehab without the brace so that those muscles and ligaments get stronger not weaker.
Ankle brace can actually weaken your ankle
First of all a brace will actually make your ankle weaker, if you don’t also rehab/strengthen it.
Only use the brace for games or practice and try to get to a point where you don’t use it for practice.
This will be for the player to decide when that point is… If it hurts to walk or jog I would keep wearing it to practice, but once you get to the point where it doesn’t hurt to move around than try to not use the brace.
Remember you need to keep doing the rehab exercises even when the pain has gone away, because it takes a while for it to heal 100%.
Sometimes ankles can take up to 1 year to fully heal.This is the point we want to get to so that a soccer ball hitting the inside of the toe or a fast change of direction doesn’t irritate it.
Don’t wear a brace to school or work
Wearing a brace during easy activity is going to weaken your ankle.
The muscles need to do easy walking around on their own, unless it’s a fresh injury and you just can’t walk without lots of pain. If you need to wear one the first few days post injury cool, but after that don’t wear a brace to school.
Now if they are doing PE, I would just have them sit out due to the injury, so that they can recover and play their team sport sooner. PE is mostly meant for kids to get physical activity, so soccer players don’t need to stress about missing PE when injured.
Is using tape or an ankle brace better?
Many Pros use ankle tape in games because it feels much better and it supports the ankle more tight.
The hard part for people who are not pros is, who is going to wrap your ankle? If you are a college player or pro then you have a pretty good trainer to wrap it.
If you are in HS then you are lucky to get someone who can wrap good. I have had my ankle wrapped 100 times, and I remember how it’s done. But this doesn’t mean I can wrap an ankle.
This is why the brace is popular, because getting it wrapped is not going to be easy.
Using a brace you may need to try a few out.
I think that the big thick leather one is very hard for a soccer player, compared to football or basketball. The reason is because having to control the ball with our feet. Big braces get in the way and mess up your pass or first touch.
Higher chance for ankle injury on turf
If you can choose grass or turf you should choose grass.
Even today with all the high tech turf there’s a higher chance to sprain your ankle compared to grass.
Turf causes so many injuries that the big time soccer players and clubs won’t even play a single match on turf.
Learn why turf is bad for not only ankles but knees as well.
Any hard surface like turf, hard court is going to give your joints a harder time. If you have to play on these surfaces, just make sure you keep a positive mindset and tell yourself you will not get injured.
The mind is powerful and if we are telling ourselves we are going to stay healthy, you are better off than saying you are going to get hurt.
Be careful playing soccer on turf with running shoes
One of the worst thing you can do is go play soccer wearing running shoes.
With running shoes your chances of rolling an ankle are much higher.
The sole of a running shoe is higher than an indoor shoe, soccer cleats or even a training shoe.
Whether you are a full time soccer player or just playing for fun, be careful playing on turf. You don’t want another ankle injury.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician, physical therapist, etc. However, I am a former professional athlete who has been through the training, surgeries, rehabilitation, etc. Always consult a doctor for injuries.