Ankle Sprains in Dancers
Lateral ankle sprains are a very common injury for dancers. They will frequently state, “I rolled over my ankle in class.” They may also report hearing or feeling a pop at the time of injury. This usually occurs when landing improperly from a jump which often causes swelling and pain on the outside of the ankle.
The most frequently injured ligament is the anterior talo-fibular ligament or the ATFL. Ankle sprains have different degrees of severity from a grade 1 to grade 3, depending on the amount of tearing of the lateral ligaments. A grade 1 injury may just need an ace wrap, where as a more severe sprain may require someone to use crutches.
An ankle injury should be evaluated by a physician to rule out fractures, but follow-up with a physical therapist is imperative. Physical therapy will first focus on reducing pain and inflammation using gentle stretching, joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization and cryotherapy. Strengthening exercises will be started once the patient can tolerate them without pain.
As pain reduces and strength improves, the patient can begin balance exercises to address the lack of proprioception, or your body’s awareness of its position in space. Balance will progress to higher level activities, using foam squares and bosu balls, since a dancer requires a high level of stability. Upon returning to dance, the patient should wear an ankle brace and continue to follow a home exercise program to prevent the chance of injury recurrence. Being treated properly should keep a dancer on their toes for years to come.
Robert Kotraba, PT, DPT, OCS