How do ankle sprains affect walking?

Ankle sprains are a common occurrence in athletes with prevalence rates between 20-46%, depending on the sport. A previous article I wrote discusses this data in regards to many popular sports, as well as the rate of chronic ankle instability. Chronic ankle instability is described as the person experiencing a significant ankle sprain, the ankle feeling unstable and 2+ episodes of giving way within the past 6 months.

Researchers looked at a specific set of data including ground reaction forces (intensity of impact of the foot when it contacts the ground), how quickly the foot comes into contact with the ground and leg muscle activity. The authors looked at the differences between the sprained ankle and the non-sprained ankle in regards to these measurements.

They found that there was significantly greater force with the initial foot contact and faster loading rates of the injured ankle compared to the non-injured one. There was also a significant difference in the activity of two muscles of the leg- the gluteus medius (hip) and peroneus longus (ankle). The gluteus medius controls knee position when performing a squat or lunge type movement, preventing the knee from collapsing inward. The peroneus longus controls the foot, preventing it from rolling in. 

What does this mean for you, the athlete with the ankle sprain? 

  1. Higher loading rates (more force) may result in increased risk of early degenerative changes of the cartilage. The joint needs time to heal to restore and repair any small injury that may have happened during exercise. This is a completely normal process, similar to muscle building- you create “micro-tears” in the muscle, and it repairs when you rest. This is an overly simplified explanation since many factors contribute to tissue healing and resilience. However, when the joint is excessively stressed, the repair process is interrupted and the tissue fails to heal properly. Over time, this can result in irreparable injury, causing pain and dysfunction.
  2. Faster loading of the foot on the ground means that other body parts have to compensate to accommodate for a change in “normal” movement patterns. Over time, this may alter how the joint functions at the knee, hip and lower back, potentially causing further pain and dysfunction at these joint. 

Now you’re probably wondering: How can I treat my ankle sprain?

While the majority of ankle sprains do not require a visit to the ER and the swelling resolves after a few weeks, the changes discussed in this article may persist for years after the initial injury. In fact, 74% of athletes will experience pain, swelling, weakness and instability 2 years after the ankle sprain. Additionally, 73% of athletes will experience a second ankle sprain of the same ankle. 

This article only looks at changes in walking mechanics after an ankle sprain. Athletes are engaged in far more intense activity- jumping, running and cutting for prolonged periods of time. This may compound the above mentioned issues.

I have an ankle sprain! Where can I get help?

The good news is that athletes can participate in specific rehabilitation exercises to address these complications and prevent subsequent ankle sprains from occurring. Injury prevention programs have successfully reduced lower limb injury by up to 80%. 

Rehabilitation exercises based on sport-specific tasks like jumping, running and cutting. A well-structured and progressive balance and strength training program can help bring you one step closer to the field.

If you are an athlete experiencing dysfunction due to an ankle sprain, we can help you recover and return to sport without medication and without surgery.

Give our office a call so we can help you get back to being an athlete!


Want to learn more about ankle sprains? Read this article about differences in how the body moves when performing more sport-specific tasks.

Ankle sprains change the way you balance

Ankle sprains change the way you land from jumping

Ankle sprains change the way you run

Ankle sprains change the way you cut and pivot