Avoiding ankle sprain

Will I keep having trouble with my ankle?

Most ankle injuries get better completely and cause no long-term problems. Sometimes, however, there is some permanent damage to the ankle. The ligaments may fail to heal properly and become weak, or there may be damage to the joint itself or some other structure nearby.

Most importantly, an ankle ligament injury also damages the small nerve endings in the joint and ligaments. These endings are very important, as they tell your brain where your ankle is and what position it is in (they are called "proprioceptive nerves"). Your brain relies on this information to control the muscles which move and protect your ankle. If these nerve endings are not working properly, your brain does not get reliable information and the muscles around your ankle may not work together properly. You would feel this as a tendency for your ankle to "give way", often with minor stresses. This might make you prone to repeated ankle sprains. This is referred to as "ankle instability" and is more commonly due to damage to the proprioceptive nerves than actual weakness of the ligaments.

I sprained my ankle last year. It's fine now - can I prevent it happening again?

You can't absolutely prevent another injury, but there are things you can do to reduce the risk. Obviously, take care when walking to avoid catching your foot on uneven bits of pavement (especially when you are in a hurry or have had a few drinks). High-heeled shoes put extra stress on your ankle and should be avoided. If your ankle or Achilles tendon are stiff this puts extra stress on your ankle ligaments when you walk or run, and exercises would probably improve this.

If you play sport, you should take extra care to warm up and down properly, with plenty of stretches to your ankle and Achilles tendon. Strapping your ankle or wearing a sports ankle support may reduce the risk of another injury but this has not been conclusively proven. If your injury was a bad one, it would be worth asking a physiotherapist about a re-training programme for the proprioceptive nerves in your ankle. Your GP or sports club could arrange this.