Ankle sprains are a common injury people have. A “sprain” is more a mechanism of injury rather than a diagnosis.

Sprains are common with athletic activity, but they can happen to anyone. Most commonly, they occur when the ankle is put into inversion (bending the foot inwards) and plantarflexion (stretching the foot down). Sprains are more common among athletes involved in sports like basketball and Volleyball. It is important to pay attention and avoid them when possible because ankle injuries may permanently affect the short and/or long term.

Sprains are caused by a stretching or tearing of the ligaments. Ligaments are responsible for holding joints together, which are two bones. When injured, they allow more motion in the area and make it easier for it to happen again.

Sprains at the ankle can also go the other way as well so that the ankle rolls out. While these are the minority of sprains, these represent a much more major injury because the ankle is much more stable in that direction; thus, bones can break when the ankle rolls out like that.

There are several different degrees of injury with sprains. More minor ones give minimal swelling and some pain. A gradual return to full athletic activities is possible in about two weeks. More major ones involve more swelling along with bruising and bleeding. See a doctor and rehab people before returning to activities.

The good news is that there are some things that you can do to prevent sprains or at least decrease the risk of injuring your ankle.

1. The most obvious places to watch are athletic activities. When turning, the ankle lands during jumping activities or in a change of running direction, the ankle can turn. Basketball and Volleyball are prime examples of sports where jumping is a risk. Soccer, Football and Lacrosse are other sports where directions can change quickly. In sports like these, having something to deter the ankle turning is advisable. High-topped runners are often worn in sports. They may help prevent ankle sprains by notifying your brain that your ankle is turning before pain is felt. This can activate the muscles slightly quicker. Ankle splints are more effective when preventing an ankle sprain. These are a great option for athletes that are prone to injuries. These splints support the ankle and discourage it from turning.

2. Wearing shoes that are worn increases the risk of inverting the ankle. Replace or repair shoes if the sole is worn on the outside. Worn shoes increase the risk of going over on the ankle – especially if the ankle has been injured before and the ligaments are relaxed.

3. A wider-based shoe sole can also help reduce the occurrence of ankle sprains. A wider base will provide additional stability.

4. Make sure that the shoe fits the foot. If the foot and shoe shape does not match, it can turn the ankle.

5. Don’t exercise when tired. Muscles control the ankle and keep it from turning. If you are tired, the muscles may be unable to hold your ankle up.

6. Exercise a bit of care when you are walking on uneven surfaces. It is possible to turn the ankle if you walk on uneven surfaces and aren’t ready for it.

7. Some people report ankle sprains when their foot slipped on a curb. Watching where your foot goes is important for curbs and other tripping hazards. It might get caught in a tumble if you don’t watch the foot. Ankle sprains and other injuries can result in cases like these.

8. Another thing that people reported was losing balance while walking or standing on high heels. High heels are something that no Pedorthist would recommend for long-term wear. Check the shoe to see if the heel is stable, the front of the shoe is as wide as the foot, and the foot is stable. This will decrease the risk of injuries while wearing high heels.

A question may arise whether custom foot orthotics help prevent ankle sprains. It seems that orthotics do not directly prevent ankle sprains but may help indirectly. If orthotics are helping prevent pain or align the foot to improve muscle activation, it may be possible that the ankle is in a more optimal state to prevent injury. This is not a proven fact, but it may be possible.

To help prevent ankle sprains, wearing proper shoes, ankle support and being aware of your surroundings is important. If you need help selecting proper footwear or additional support, talk to your local Canadian Certified Pedorthist. You can find one at

Written by Jim Pattison, C. Ped (C)