Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries for cheerleaders, but as athletes we focus very little time on improving our ankle strength and stability. This one simple exercise is a great way to assist recovery from ankle injuries and prevent them from recurring.
Please Note: This advice is not meant to replace treatment by a medical professional, always use caution and common sense, seek additional support if needed.
Tumbling and jumps may be an integral part of our sport but continual hard landings put a lot of stress on our ankle joints, weakening them and putting them at risk of sprains and other injuries. A few calf raises here and there are often the only ankle specific conditioning cheerleaders do, so it's no wonder that we injure our ankles and these injuries become persistent.
A note on proprioception
First of all, what is it? Proprioception is what tells us where our bodies are, kind of like a sixth sense. It allows us to feel how we move and adjust our position, providing stability, especially when we don't have visual input (our eyes are closed). The sensors or proprioceptors are nerve cells located in our muscles, tendons and joints. When we injure these tissues, the proprioceptors abilities are also impaired.
Lack of proprioceptive input is one contributing factor to why a joint that has been injured is susceptible to re-injury. It affects the stability of the joint and ability to regain position when destabilised, such as during an off-centre landing.
It makes sense then, that improving proprioception should be part of rehabilitating an injured ankle. The exercise I'm about to describe will not only help with proprioception but also regaining strength, especially in smaller muscles that are critical for stability.
The single-leg balance
This easy exercise is the key to increasing proprioception and reducing repeated injuries. It requires no equipment to start but as you get better you can make it more difficult by standing on a folded towel then a cushion and eventually a balance board.
Start by standing on two feet, transfer your weight onto one leg and bring the other foot up to hover next to your knee - we are holding "passé" which is the position a flyer holds in a Lib. If your balance isn't great, this might be enough to challenge you. To really bring in the proprioceptors though, you want to close your eyes. This should be quite difficult and if you become unbalanced, do what you need to readjust your position and come back to passé.
If you're having trouble picturing it, I've found a video that should help:
You should balance for a total of 30 seconds, not including the time to readjust when you lose balance. Eventually we want to balance for 30 seconds without losing balance, then we can make it more difficult by making the surface you're standing on progressively more unstable in the ways described above. If it is too difficult at the start you can stand in front of or next to a wall with just your finger tips touching to provide some support.
Tracking your progress
It's always nice to see how you're going. A simple test that allows you to measure improvements is to time how long you can hold a single leg balance, eyes closed. Time each leg 3 times to find an average for each. You might notice that the time for your injured leg is a lot shorter. Re-test every couple of weeks and keep a record of your results.
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