Ankle sprains are one of the most common and costly sports injuries. In the United States, an estimated 23,000 ankle sprains occur every day, while in the Netherlands, an estimated 234,000 ankle sprains occur annually, costing over 84,000,000.
There is also strong evidence that athletes are at high risk of re-injury in the first year after an ankle sprain, with half of these leading to chronic pain and disability requiring prolonged medical care.
So researchers in the Netherlands assessed the effectiveness of an unsupervised home-based training programme consisting of a series of exercises to improve balance and motor coordination skills (known as proprioception abilities).
A group of 522 athletes (274 men and 248 women) aged between 12 and 70 years, from a wide range of sports, were randomly split into two groups. Both groups received treatment according to usual care. The intervention group (256 athletes) also received an eight-week home-based proprioceptive training programme.
The programme consisted of three 30-minute training sessions per week. Athletes were encouraged to perform the exercises as part of their warm-up of their normal sporting activity. Exercises gradually became more difficult during the eight-week programme.
All participants were monitored for one year. During this time, 145 athletes reported an ankle sprain recurrence: 56 (22%) athletes in the intervention group and 89 (33%) in the control group.
The intervention programme was associated with a 35% reduction in the risk of recurrent ankle sprains compared to the control group, of which most was ascribed to non-medically treated athletes.
One ankle sprain recurrence was prevented for every nine athletes who completed the programme.
These results show that an eight-week unsupervised home-based proprioceptive training programme is effective in preventing ankle sprain recurrences after usual care, say the authors. This training programme was specifically beneficial in athletes whose inclusion ankle sprain was not medically treated.