NBA Playoffs: How To Come Back From An Ankle Injury

If you keep up with the NBA Playoffs, it’s clear that these seasoned athletes perform with incredible agility and endurance. Unfortunately, during the heat of the Playoffs, these athletes also have to deal with recurring injuries flaring back up. Steph Curry’s sprained ankle gave Warrior’s fans cause for concern earlier in the Western Conference Playoffs. What is the best way to treat an ankle injury? It comes down to two concepts: strength and balance.

Breaking Down Steph Curry’s Right Ankle

Stephen Curry sat out 2 games during the Western Conference Playoffs when the Warriors were matched up with the Rockets. Although Curry returned from his ankle “tweak”, Curry has had a 5 year history of issues with his right ankle. In basketball, ankles are one of the most commonly injured body parts . With sprain after sprain, his season in 2011 ended with surgery to repair a tendon in his damaged right ankle. This season, he played 80 games compared to just 26 games in 2011. It’s clear Curry has put his nagging ankle pain behind him. Yet, as seen by his sprain earlier this season, ankle injuries do have the potential to happen again.

Ending The Cycle Of Spraining

The chances of re-spraining your ankle are at least 30% and sometimes as high as 80% if the ligaments of your ankle are severely stretched and unstable. Basketball players are especially prone to ankle injuries because of the movements they engage in. Unexpected changes in direction and potential contact with other players leads to a risky environment for the ankles. There’s a lot of side-to-side movement with players cutting around other players at quick speeds. Player’s take an opening when they have the chance, which means a lot of high impact jumping and landing can occur in awkward positions. Landing on another player’s foot is also another common way to sprain the ankle.

Physical rehabilitation for any ankle injury involves manual therapy to improve the ankle’s range of motion, prevent scar tissue buildup, and reduce any swelling in the joint. Combatting future sprains involves taking a full-body approach to treating your ankle. What makes rehabilitation unique to basketball players is teaching them how to control their bodies during unnatural movements when they jump or land. Players work on extending their range of motion within their body so they won’t be injured if they jump at weird angles.

How NBA Players Train Their Glutes

Preventing an ankle injury involves strengthening the whole body so players aren’t as dependant on their ankles when they move. Emphasis is placed on strengthening the hips, gluteal, and abdominal muscles to give a player more control when they move. Basketball players have to focus on controlling their bodies during unnatural movements when they jump or land so they don’t injure their knees or ankles. For that, it’s not only the ankle that needs stability—the knee, hips, and core need strengthening as well. Your glutes provide stability throughout the lower half of your body. The Warriors prefer exercises such as the trapbar deadlift to build up strength. It involves stepping into a diamond shaped bar and lifting the weight straight up around your body. One of the primary muscles groups that this exercise strengthens are the glutes.

Sacramento Kings shooting guard Seth Curry also practices the single-leg deadlift to continue to improve his strength and balance. You start off by standing up straight and keeping your arms by your side while holding a single weight in one of your hands. Then, you lower your torso as far as you can go while balancing on the opposite leg as the hand that’s holding the weight. As you do this, you lower the dumbbell slowly down while keeping your arm straight.

If you practice this exercise while balancing on the sprained ankle, you balance train and strengthen the glutes at the same time. With weak glutes, your hips can drop out, and your knees can turn inward as you move. Once that happens, there’s more pressure put on your ankle to compensate for the imbalance—which increases the chances of a resprain.

Keeping Balanced On The Court

Balance retraining is another key component to treatment to help your ankle stay stable as you move around. For basketball players, they need to have exceptional balance control for the lower half of their bodies. They battle against the forces of gravity while on the court by constantly jumping and landing. An ankle injury disrupts your body’s sense of balance and puts you at risk for re-spraining it. Your ankle has small muscles surrounding it that help keep it in place. Those small muscles are constantly activating and sending signals to your brain to help keep you balanced.

One of the primary goals of physical therapy is to re-educate your ankle’s sense of balance that was damaged during the injury. Special receptors in your ankles send information to your brain about how your ankle is positioned when you’re walking or moving. After an injury, communication between these receptors in your ankle and your brain is disrupted. Since the receptors are damaged, they can’t tell your body how your ankle is positioned. Your ankle may lose its sense of where it’s positioned relative to your movements (i.e. proprioception). This may leave your already injured ankle prone to instability since your body can’t balance it correctly. Ankle stability training involves dynamic activities such as balancing while throwing a ball or moving on a balance board.

Kevin Durant incorporated this type of balance training into a lunging exercise. Watch it here. He would lunge forward and place his foot onto a wobbly balance board in order to improve the stability of his ankle on an unstable surface. By doing this, he prepared himself for the unstable footing he might have to deal with on the court. As you get better at balancing, you’ll lose the feeling of instability or wobbliness in your injured ankle. Your body will get better at controlling the positioning of your ankle without having to consciously think about it.

Staying In The Game

Without properly treating your initial ankle injury in the first place, future ankle instability may lead to future sprains. It doesn’t come down to simply strengthening the ankle muscles. Steph Curry began rehabilitating his ankle by not only strengthening his ankles, but his hips and glutes as well. Your sense of balance and ankle stability go hand-in-hand. Retraining the way your balance system communicates with your brain is a key part of the physical rehabilitation process.