Ankle pain is very common in gymnastics and usually occurs through the tumbling and jumping manoeuvres that gymnasts often execute while they’re on the training mats. This is most often a daily pain that gymnasts experience due to the nature of the sport.
The main reason why your ankles hurt, is due to landing short, creating too much tension or pressure in your calf muscles, or even applying too much weight onto your ankle joints whenever you jump, tumble, or dismount. However, there are also a number of different serious injuries that can make your ankles hurt as well.
Some of the symptoms of ankle pain include soreness or a significant pain that may even result in some loss of the function of your ankles or toes, as well as swelling in that general area. But, there are a wide variety of symptoms that you can have in addition to pain.
If you are a gymnast and you have been performing on the mat and in competitions for years now, then while you’ve tumbled during certain passes or vaults you may have thought that the stinging or irritation in your ankles may have been normal, but it is actually not.
When it comes to gymnastics, there are a lot of skills to master which require you to jump or stand on your toes, and the common activities that make your calf muscles tight actually restricts the motion of your ankles, which prevents them from absorbing forces properly during your landings.
Types Of Ankle Injuries
There two types of injuries that may affect your ankles, and these are known as the inversion and eversion injuries. Inversion injuries occur when the ankle rolls outward and the foot rolls inward in contraction. On the other hand, an eversion injury is when the ankle rolls inward and the foot outward, and this hurts ligaments on the inside of your ankle.
Ankle injuries also come in three different grades which determine the severity of the actual injury itself. With grade one, the ligaments near your ankle are stretched or slightly torn, and this can create soreness, stiffness, or swelling around your ankle. Gymnasts may still be able to walk, but they’ll have a limp to their movement.
With grade two, however, a bigger tear is created and the ligament is stretched farther than normal. Gymnasts will feel more pain then grade one and their feet will be swollen and their ankle bruised to the point where they will not be able to put weight on it.
The final level of severity is grade three, and this represents a ligament or ligaments that are actually completely torn, and the swelling is much greater with lots of bruising. Gymnasts are not able to walk at all, and their ankles may completely give out if they attempt to.
There is a reason why gymnasts commonly have ankle pain, and this is due to the fact that they usually tumble or land incorrectly when practicing different manoeuvres. This type of problem is called impact-based ankle pain, and this damage is located around ankle joints.
If left untreated, you could get stress fractures, ankle sprains, and even issues near the Achilles tendon. So, there are a few reasons why gymnasts may experience ankle pain even when tumbling or landing correctly, and this involves not only bad landings, but also improper jumping or dismounting.
As mentioned, a lot of extra force is applied on the front of your ankles. Overtime as the forces gradually builds on your ankles and you might start to develop what is known as anterior ankle impingement syndrome.
This impingement is created within the soft tissue structures in the front of your ankle which creates bone spurs. To help prevent this it is important to increase your range of motion in your ankles by developing flexibility in your calf and ankle joint, and this gradual strengthening can reduce the pain or even completely eliminate it.
If a gymnast can stretch their calves without feeling any pain or they don’t feel anything at all when they are stretching their calf muscles because it feels like they are stuck in the front of their muscle, then they should tell somebody about that and at least let their coach know.
These types of injuries are usually caused when you land short, and this in turn can cause a bruised surface of the ankle right above the bone. If a gymnast is repeatedly jumping in this wrong way, then they will experience irritations which usually comes from having tight calf muscles. When a gymnast has tight calf muscles, then the ankle joint’s ability to rotate backwards is restricted.
A gymnast should seek medical attention if they hear that their ankle makes a popping sound when they fall or have some other kind of accident. They should also seek medical attention if they have extreme pain or there is bruising or swelling around their ankle joint.
Plus, if they feel like they can’t walk well or they can’t put weight on their ankle, because it feels like their legs are wobbling as they pivot, then they should definitely seek a doctor. Finally, they should also seek one if they feel numb in that area and also if these injuries persist longer than 2 weeks.
Some of the injuries that a gymnast my experience is Sever’s disease or Osgood Schlatters, whose symptoms sometimes involves inflammation of the heel. This type of impact injury which affects the growth plates does not allow you to handle weight very effectively. Younger gymnasts typically get Sever’s Disease or Osgood Schlatters (medically named calcaneal and tibial apophysitis) which is essentially inflammation of ankle joints.
How To Treat Different Ankle Injuries
A gymnast can still apply some weight to their ankle during their training, as long as it’s not too painful even if they are getting over a sprain. However, they should be very careful doing this, though they should perform some rehabilitative exercises while they are at home to help their ankle to heal, as well as to prevent any other pain.
One helpful thing that you can do is to submerge your ankle if it is swollen in water, soaking your ankles for about half a minute, followed by immersion in water that is much warmer – around 104° F – for another half minute. In order to reduce the swelling, you can also alternate your ankle from one basin of water to another basin of water of different temperatures.
Try to also include ice baths as well as some nightly compression routines to improve your recovery. This is a great way to manage the pain, as well as reducing any inflammation around the joint area, and that’s why ice is the key when you experience too much swelling.
Make sure to stay moving and active, and to compress the injury with enough support like you would have from an ankle brace, that way you’re able to manage your inflammation more effectively. Not only is ice a great way to reduce inflammation as well as to manage the pain, but you can also use compression sleeves and wear them in order to provide even more support.
Another thing that can be done in order to treat your ankles after a sprain, is to massage the soft tissues around the ankle every single day as a manual type of stretching and therapy regimen. Your legs take quite a bit of damage over time when executing various movements as a gymnast.
Over time this can make your muscles pretty stiff due to the range of motion and the amount of pressure applied after landings, so you should do a few drills like pressing your toes up and extending your hips in order to test the range of motion and check for proper movement. Doing this twice daily for about 30 to 60 seconds each for over a month is ideal.
According to experts, it takes about six weeks to heal from sprained ankles. As a common injury that gymnasts may experience, 6 weeks is much better then four months, which is how long it would take to heal other more serious injuries associated with gymnastics.
During treatment, it is important to keep a few things in mind in order to make sure that you successfully reduce swelling in your ankle joint, and this involves protection of the area using a brace for about a day’s time to about 36 hours right after you’ve gotten the sprain, and you should also rest and use crutches until you’re able to walk properly again if it is a bad sprain.
Make sure to also get physical therapy and to apply ice for compression for up to 20 minutes twice daily in order to reduce the swelling. Final thing to note in terms of treatment, is to make sure that you elevate your ankle above the level of your heart for approximately 3 hours or more every day.
How To Prevent Ankle Injuries
If you do experience ankle pain during gymnastics, then you consider wearing an elastic foot or ankle support brace. This type of brace provides the best type of support, as well as compression to prevent pain or future injuries concerning the ankle joint.
The cool thing about an ankle brace is that you can just slip your foot right in there to provide the best support, and it wraps around the foot in a comfortable manner and is very easy to wear for extended periods of time. Not only that, but it’s made of elastic material which is very flexible when wrapped around your ankle.
Your legs are known to carry your body weight, and that also means that your feet are also carrying a lot of your body weight, and so the ankle brace also serves to support your weight while performing gymnastics. The elastic foot and ankle brace provides maximum support, preventing and aiding pain or injuries.
While using your ankle brace, you’ll be able to prevent injuries such as stretching or tearing of the ligaments or tendons of your ankle, and this extra compression allows you to be more mobile than you were before you put the brace on. Make sure to take pressure off of the area where you’re feeling pain in your ankle. Injuries can always be prevented by taking proper measures like wearing an ankle brace.
One important thing for you to do is to reduce the workload or the impacts that affect your ankle. Whenever your training hours spikes, you create a situation where this high workload increases your risk of injury. So, the solution would be to build yourself back up again to condition yourself with more strength to handle such impacts.
This may take a few weeks, but as time goes on you’ll be able to start landing properly and reduce the amount of pain on your ankle. Another thing that should be done is to diagnose your ankles and get medical attention quickly if it’s too severe of a problem for you or your coach to handle.
Make sure that incentives to complete your training do not delay your trip to the doctor either. Generally speaking, if you feel the effects of an injury for more than 3 days then you should probably see a doctor to see if there are any serious issues.
Another thing that gymnasts should do is to exercise a little bit of patience. Young teenagers or young adults are still growing, and since their bodies have not completely matured yet it may take them a while for their muscles or tendons to be able to adapt to certain weights and impacts as they make certain landings on the training floor.
Therefore, do not simply think that resting for one or two days will be enough to make chronic pain in your ankle go away, because the truth of the matter is that gymnasts may have to dedicate weeks or even months before they are able to properly heal from their injuries.
Another important thing to do is to dedicate a large amount of time to perfecting your techniques in order to prevent yourself from executing improper landings or dismounts in the future. One of the greatest things that you can do to prevent ankle joint sprains is to stick your landings properly.
Make sure to land with your feet and knees together, keeping your torso straight and up as you land, as well as tucking your hips in and using your knees to help absorb the force as you fall. This is in stark contrast to landing with your feet hip-width apart, and your knees in line with those hips, seeing as such a posture creates a squat like pattern which produces way too much stress or load on the ankle joint. For this same reason, you should restrict squat based movements to a minimum.
So, if you really want to land properly, then try to get your arms to lead into your jumps, and form a tight arch in your back, and use your hips to rotate properly. If you do this, you’ll find that you can relieve stress even near your heels or your Achilles tendon area, and you won’t be so off the mark the next time you land.
It may seem obvious, but you simply have to stop landing short. Every time this is done it pretty much destroys your ankles. And even though it may still be legal to land this way in a competition, you are still doing far more harm than good.
Therefore, get with your coach and build your skills up, so that you can land properly, and make sure to go over those fundamentals and put your health before gymnastics, so that you won’t run the risk of re-injuring yourself.
One thing that can also help treat your ankle pain as well as prevent it is to slowly build the strength in your knees and ankles right after the injury has occurred. This is one of the best ways to manage the pain and swelling of a sprained ankle, and this in turn helps increase your tolerance for certain volumes of impact that affect ankle joints.
Right after you rehabilitate yourself, you’ll be able to slowly rebuild your tolerance to a higher level of impact as you continue your training. The reason for this, is that if you do nothing or you don’t expose your body to stress then your muscles will begin to atrophy or get weaker, and this in turn will make your ankles even more susceptible to pain.
Seeing as you’re going to be on your legs throughout gymnastics training, if you really want to treat your ankle pain and improve your performance, then make sure to build your leg strength and enter into some preparation programs set forth by your coach.
Gymnastic techniques are only getting harder and harder, and younger gymnasts are entering into the sport having to develop even more complex skills than the previous generation in order to outshine them. All in all, you’ll need to be lifting some more weights and doing some more body-weight work like calisthenics.