In this article we will discuss: How does an ankle sprain affect balance?

Building upon previous articles where I discuss research on ankle sprains and chronic ankle instability prevalence by sport, complications associated with ankle sprains, how to return to sport after experiencing an ankle sprain, ankle sprain effects on walking and drop jump tasks, we will now turn towards chronic ankle instability and impaired balance. 

First, let’s take a quick look at how our balance system works. There are three systems that communicate with each other on a constant basis, feeding information, checking that information, then directing the body automatically on how to interact with the environment and task to perform. 

The somatosensory system collects information from the body- joint position, muscle tension and length. This system answers the question: Is my leg in the proper position to balance? Is my arm in a good position to lift that weight?

The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and can detect head position in relation to the body. This system answers the question: Is my head tilted up while running to the finish line? Is my head facing the floor because I’m kicking a soccer ball?

The visual system checks what’s happening in the environment. This system answers the question: Is there a ball coming at my face? Is the athlete in front of me my teammate or opponent?

These three components are processed at many different levels in the brain and spinal cord. The response of how the body will interact with the environment is dependent on several factors. Previous history (experience), current body function (strength and flexibility) and goal-oriented information (kicking or catching the ball) are simultaneously processed. The end result is completion of the task.

So now let’s see how we can better understand the question: 

What happens to my balance when I have an ankle sprain?

In effect, there is a “sensory reweighting” that selects for which of the senses to “pay more attention to”. In ankle sprains, there seems to be a relative increase in the reliance on visual systems, and less reliance on the somatosensory system (body position). This is why people who had an ankle sprain have a more difficult time with balancing with eyes closed. Balancing with eyes opening allows the person to maintain an upright posture because they use lines on the field, chairs in the stadium or other players standing upright, to determine body position in space. 

There is also a disruption in how much output that reflexes and conscious movement play in sport-specific tasks. Essentially, spinal reflexes are heavily reweighted, and conscious processing is un-weighteds. When athletes are presented with a more complex task, the capacity to balance may be interrupted. 

Can my balance improve with training?

Absolutely! Specifically designed programs can “rewire” the brain and body to perform more efficiently. Progressively challenging exercises in a controlled environment can significantly improve confidence and facilitate quality movement for a safe return to sport. 

Injury prevention programs have successfully reduced lower limb injury by up to 80%. Given that 74% of athletes experience a repeat ankle injury of the same ankle, an 80% reduction could make or break an athletes career. 

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!