Ever sprained an ankle? Read on to find out how ankle dysunction may place you at risk for more serious injury.
Are you in a sport that requires more cutting than a barbers shop? These sports carry a significant risk of knee and ankle injury such as ligament ruptures and cartilage tears. Changing direction quickly at speed can be devastating for the opposition when done right, and yourself when it’s not.
Fortunately a powerful ankle can improve performance and prevent injury. It’s a win-win scenario.
Agility – A powerful ankle is everything
Being an agile athlete requires the whole body to be powerful and stable right? But what if one part of the body was commonly underused but could potentially make all the difference.
Recent studies have shown that in elite athletes nearly 60% of variation in sidestep performance came from the athlete’s ability to use their ankle with power. It has a far greater influence than both sprint speed and knee strength.
Further studies have revealed that proper use of the ankle while changing direction was the single biggest factor in preventing excessive forces on the knee that can lead to a number of injuries such as ACL ruptures, meniscus tears and patellofemoral (knee cap) pain.
This is all because the foot is a powerful lever that is often disregarded with both technique and strength training.
So how do we adjust our training to improve agility?
To be able to use the ankle effectively when changing direction it needs to land in the right position.
Landing on the forefoot:
Also known as a toe landing, this allows the body use the whole ankle to first decelerate before quickly accelerating using the recoil type mechanism within the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. This also reduces the peak forces acting on the knee that can cause injury.
Rotating the ankle:
Turning the ankle and foot in the new direction of movement allows the calf muscle to direct power in the right direction and reduces the lateral forces that cause both ankle and knee injury.
Pretty simple concepts but taking a look at slow motion footage of athletes rupturing their ACL tells another story. Take the Atlanta Hawk’s Lou Williams in the video below for example. Likely to be affected by fatigue, the slow motion replay shows he landed heavily on his heel to decelerate not allowing his ankle to absorb his momentum. His knee was unable to cope with the sudden increase in load and the rest is history.
What’s best form of training for agility? Its agility training!
Changing direction exerts six times the amount of force on the knee than plyometric jump tasks. Therefore training must reflect this. They are higher because they involve both vertical and sideways forces from the ground that occur when pushing off in a sideways direction. Changing direction is a single leg task that requires a high level of hip and trunk stability, far more than a simple box jump.
Try a simple single leg squat keeping good alignment of the trunk, hips, knee and ankle. More difficult than it seems and certainly much harder than a squat.
This is the same with the ankle. Heavy calf raises and hopping tasks are excellent at creating power in the calf, however the lateral forces while changing direction must be controlled using the peroneal muscle group located on the outside of the leg. These are vital in preventing ankle injury and improving performance. There is no surprise these are best trained using change of direction drills.
Where can you get specific agility and change of direction training?
Excell Physiotherapy provides a Running Rehab service designed for both late stage injury rehab and injury prevention.
This service provides both us as physiotherapists and you as the athlete to put the cherry on top by working on the last 10% – 20% of rehab work that is all too frequently missed during an athlete’s rehabilitation. Here we can address deficits in power, endurance and most importantly technique.
Anyone can benefit from this service, particularly those wanting to return to a high level after an injury of the knee, ankle, groin or hamstring. Think this could be you? Give us a call.
Sam Brasell, B.Phty, M.Phty (sport)