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While performing sport-specific exercises for the entire body is ideal, focusing on one area can allow young athletes to prepare certain joints and muscles that might take extra tweaking or pounding during play. Ankle injuries like sprains and strains are typically one of the most common issues young athletes experience, whether from laterally cutting across a field, or from stepping on uneven footing. One study published in Injury Epidemiology found that sprains and strains account for over 80% of ankle injuries in youth and college athletes.
“The foot and ankle are made up of bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons that all work together to support the body,” says physical therapist John Gallucci, Jr., DPT, ATC, Medical Coordinator for Major League Soccer (MLS), and CEO of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy. “The combination of a large number of structures, the ability to absorb forces many times the body weight, and rigorous demand on the foot and ankle can make it no surprise that foot and ankle injuries can occur.”
Here are five at-home moves Galluci suggests to help youth athletes prep for the next season.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold onto a table or back of chair.
- While counting to three, slowly press down through the balls of your feet and rise until you are standing on your toes.
- After reaching the top, remove one foot from the ground and slowly lower yourself down until you are standing flat-footed.
- Do 10 times on each leg.
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and then rock back until you’re balancing on your heels.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds and then slowly lower the front of your foot to the floor. Begin with 3 sets of 10.
- Once you’ve mastered this, start walking on your heels. Walk around for thirty seconds without letting your toes hit the floor.
- Do three times per day at 30 seconds each set.
Standing Wall Stretch
- Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of the other.
- With your knee straight, raise the toes of your front foot up towards the ceiling and rest against the wall.
- Hold this stretch for thirty seconds and release.
- Do 3 sets, 3 times per day.
Note: You can also do this stretch with your knee bent.
Single-Leg Stance on a Towel
- Place a washcloth on the floor.
- Stand with your right foot on the washcloth and the left foot on the floor.
- Keep the right foot on the washcloth and lift the left foot off the floor, but make sure to keep the right foot in place.
- Hold for 15 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side. Work up to 45 seconds on each leg.
- Roll a towel up and place on the floor.
- Stand on the right side of the rolled towel, with the side of your right foot closest to the towel.
- Hop over the towel and land on the left foot.
- Pause, then hop back and land on the right foot.
- Do two to three sets of 16 repetitions (8 times each leg).