Ankle Sprains in Basketball: How to Prevent and Treat Ankle Sprains

Ankle Sprains


As a physical therapist, I have treated hundreds of basketball-related injuries. Basketball is a sport loved by millions, but it is not without its risks. One of the most common basketball injuries an athlete faces is the dreaded ankle sprain. This informative blog dives deep into the world of ankle sprains, offering research-based insights into prevention, treatment, and recovery. Whether you’re a seasoned player or just starting out, understanding the intricacies of ankle injuries can be a game-changer.

One study performed an analysis of the benefits of rehabilitation to prevent and treat minor ankle sprains and concluded that rehabilitation provided the best long-term outcomes. Furthermore, ankle rehabilitation has a significant positive impact on an athlete’s career.

 Basketball Injuries

Understanding Ankle Sprains in Basketball

Basketball requires agility, speed, and frequent direction changes, making the ankle vulnerable to injuries.  The most common mechanism of injury is landing incorrectly on one leg after a jump shot or lay-up. Ankle sprains, especially the lateral low ankle sprain, are among the top basketball injuries players encounter. The second most common basketball injury is the ACL tear of the knee which we will cover in future posts.

  • The Role of the Ankle in Basketball: The ankle supports the body’s weight, absorbs shock, and provides the flexibility needed for movements like jumping and pivoting. Its pivotal role makes it susceptible to injuries, especially in high-impact sports like basketball.
  • Most Common Ankle Injuries in Basketball: While knee injuries and rolled ankles are common, lateral ankle ligament sprains top the list. These sprains often result from landing awkwardly or stepping on another player’s foot.
  • The Ligaments Involved in Ankle Sprains: (See Image Below)
  • Anterior Talofibular Ligament (ATFL): Often injured when the foot rolls inward, the ATFL connects the talus bone to the fibula.
  • Calcaneofibular Ligament (CFL): Linking the fibula to the heel bone, the CFL provides additional stability and is vulnerable in moderate to severe sprains.
  • Posterior Talofibular Ligament (PTFL): This less commonly injured ligament connects the back of the talus bone to the fibula.

Ligaments of Ankle

The Grades of Ankle Sprains

Understanding the severity of an ankle sprain is crucial for treatment and injury prevention. On a personal note, I suffered a grade 2 ankle sprain in 2017, which I was able to self-diagnose because of my training. I was thankful for my training because, at the time, I was in a foreign country and traveling and getting proper medical care proved to be a challenge. However, without training, the easiest way to distinguish between a grade 1 and 2 is bruising. Typically, a grade 2 sprain has visible bruising on the skin. Also worth noting is that grade 2 sprains increase in pain with walking or weight bearing of the affected joint.

The following table provides an overview of all levels of ankle sprains:


The differences

Weight Bearing Capabilities

Grade 1

Minor swelling, some discoloration

Bear weight with minimal pain

Grade 2

Moderate swelling, bruising, partial ligament tear

Painful weight bearing, discomfort in walking

Grade 3

Significant swelling, bruising, likely complete tear

Very painful/impossible to bear weight



Bruising Grade 2 Ankle Sprain
Grade 2 ankle sprains usually cause bruising in most cases.

Prevention of Ankle Sprains in Basketball

Injury prevention is paramount for any athlete. By understanding risk factors and adopting preventive measures, players can significantly reduce the injury rate.

  • General Prevention Tips: Regular ankle strengthening exercises, proper footwear, and awareness of the playing surface can go a long way in preventing sprains. 

For a general overview of ankle sprains and preventative exercises to help strengthen the ankle please see our video located on this site:

  • Specific Strategies for Each Grade:
    • Preventing Grade 1 Sprains: Focus on ankle strengthening and stability exercises.  We will go into specific exercises that are the most beneficial with illustrations in a later section of this article.
    • Preventing Grade 2 Sprains: Use ankle braces during play and ensure proper warm-up routines. The link below is an example of an ankle brace that can be used during a sport like basketball to prevent grade 1 and 2 sprains. My recommendation is based on the parameters set forth in a study that analyzed the effect lace-up ankle braces had on the compression forces of jumping during a typical game of basketball. The brace that was most beneficial was laced-up, able to be worn during a game, and had medial and lateral supports.

Here is the link to the brace:

  • Preventing Grade 3 Sprains: This level of injury can be avoided by not playing on uneven and unlevel surfaces such as dirt, gravel, or hills. To prevent level 3 sprains, clear the ground of any obstacles like rocks, trash, leaves, or debris. And most importantly, try not to land on the worst obstacle of all, which is other players’ feet.

Research based braces and KT Tape techniques for Prevention and Treatment

Supporting the ankle can be crucial, both for prevention and during the recovery phase.

When to Use Ankle Braces:

The best time to use a brace is if there is a history of ankle instability. In addition, braces can be used during all stages of recovery. If participating in rehab, the brace can also be worn during the performance of exercises. For grades 3 and up, a brace will also help during the return to sports activities. Braces offer stability and can be especially beneficial after a sprain to prevent re-injury. They’re also useful for players with a history of recurrent sprains. As mentioned above, this brace,  meets the necessary parameters proven to reduce ground compression forces, which cause most ankle sprains in basketball.

Ankle Brace
Example of a laced ankle brace with lateral support
  • How to Use KT Tape on Ankle: KT tape provides support without restricting movement. It can help reduce pain and swelling, making it a popular choice among athletes. Some of my patients prefer KT taping, as it provides the most comfort but is harder to don and doff. A skilled clinician can show you how to self-tape. You can also book a virtual visit here, and we would be honored to show you how to KT tape your ankle:

Based on the latest research,  Kinesiotaping, when combined with ankle exercises, proved to be an effective way of improving the balance and stability of athletes with chronic ankle injuries. The following image is an example of a KT taping technique for the ankle.


KT taping for ankle
KT taping for the ankle provides support during all stages of recovery

The Best Exercise and Treatment for Ankle Sprains

Prompt and appropriate treatment can expedite recovery and reduce the risk of chronic issues.

  • General Treatment Approaches: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) remains the gold standard for initial treatment. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help manage pain and inflammation.
  • Specific Treatments for Each Grade:

Grade 1:  With the help of a competent physical therapist, you can have access to the most up-to-date techniques and treatments that will speed up your recovery and reduce the risk of re-injury. For example, the technique below is a combination of the latest manual and taping techniques that can make a huge difference and get you back in the game. The link below refers to a research-based taping technique that can be used for Grade 1 ankle sprains.


taping technique
This taping technique was performed after mobilization of the fibula into a posterior and superior position by a physical therapist. This technique proved to decrease overall healing time, and improvement was shown after only two sessions
  • Grade 2: Physical therapy and a longer rest period might be necessary.  This is the most common ankle sprain. You’re probably wondering what the most effective exercise is to prevent or treat ankle sprains.  Well, here is the latest research on ankle sprain. 
Jump and Land exercises
The article suggested jumping and landing exercises are beneficial. For example, using a coordination ladder, cones or stepping exercises. See images above
jumping and landing exercise
This study also suggests exercises that involve standing on one leg while performing reaching in different directions are the most beneficial in preventing and recovering from ankle sprains.

  • Grade 3: Consultation with a sports medicine specialist is crucial. Surgery may be required in some cases.  Complete immobilization may be necessary either weight bearing or non-weight bearing with crutches as illustrated below: 
Ankle Immobilizer Grade 3 Sprain
Crutches and an ankle Immobilizer may be prescribed for Grade 3 Ankle Sprains

The Road to Recovery: Rehabilitation and Returning to Play

Rehabilitation is the key to a successful return to the court.

  • Importance of Rehabilitation: Proper rehab ensures the ankle regains its strength and flexibility, reducing the risk of re-injury. Most importantly, it will reduce recovery time and prevent a minor injury from turning into a chronic condition later in life.
  • Typical Rehabilitation Steps: Depending on the level of injury, this will involve a period of rest and possible immobilization. This period can be anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, followed by range of motion exercises, strength training, balance exercises, and sport-specific drills.


Ankle sprains are an unfortunate reality in the world of basketball, but they don’t have to be a game-ender. With the right knowledge and strategies, these common injuries can be effectively managed and even prevented. The key lies in understanding the nature of these sprains, the ligaments involved, and the varying degrees of severity. This knowledge empowers athletes to take proactive measures to protect their ankles and to respond appropriately when injuries do occur.

 Prevention is the first line of defense. By incorporating regular ankle strengthening exercises, using supportive gear like ankle braces or KT tape, and being mindful of the playing environment, players can significantly reduce their risk of sprains. It’s also crucial to understand that not all sprains are created equal.

The severity of a sprain, from mild Grade 1 to severe Grade 3, dictates the necessary treatment and recovery time. When it comes to treatment, the tried-and-true RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is often the first step. However, more severe sprains may require medical intervention, including physical therapy or even surgery.

The use of supportive devices like braces and KT tape can also aid in the recovery process, providing much-needed support as the ligaments heal. Rehabilitation is a crucial part of the recovery journey. A well-structured rehab program can help restore strength, flexibility, and balance to the injured ankle, paving the way for a successful return to the court.

It’s important to remember that every athlete’s recovery journey is unique, and patience is key. Rushing back to play before the ankle has fully healed can lead to further injury and longer recovery times. Finally, remember that being resilient means being well-informed. Understanding the risks, knowing how to prevent injuries, and being prepared to manage them when they do occur are all part of the game.

So, keep learning, stay proactive, and remember that every setback is a setup for a comeback. With the right approach, you can bounce back from an ankle sprain stronger and more prepared than ever. Keep your head high, your spirits high, and never stop reaching for that hoop. Ankle sprains, while common in basketball, don’t have to sideline players for long. With the right knowledge, preventive measures, and treatment strategies, athletes can bounce back stronger. Remember, a well-informed player is a resilient player.


Q: How long should I rest after an ankle sprain?

A: The time you need to rest after an ankle sprain depends on how severe the injury is. For a Grade 1 sprain, you might need to rest for a few days to a week. If you have a Grade 3 sprain, you could be looking at several weeks or even months of rest. It’s important to listen to your body and give it the time it needs to heal.

Q: Can I play basketball with a sprained ankle?

A: It’s important to give your body enough time to heal after an ankle sprain. If you’ve got a Grade 1 sprain, you might need to rest for a few weeks, even if you’re taking good care of it. If you’ve got a Grade 2 sprain, you could be looking at up to 6 weeks of recovery time with the right care. If you’ve got a Grade 3 sprain, you absolutely need to talk to a doctor before you even think about getting back on the court. Remember, if you try to play on a sprained ankle, you could make the injury worse, and it could take even longer to heal.

Q: When should I see a doctor for an ankle sprain?

A: If you think you might have a Grade 2 or 3 sprain, you should see a doctor right away. Also, if you’ve got a mild sprain that doesn’t seem to be getting better after a few days, you should get it checked out. A healthcare professional can give you a proper diagnosis and make sure you’re doing the right things to help it heal.

Q: What can I do to prevent ankle sprains while playing basketball?

 A: Regularly doing exercises to strengthen your ankles, wearing the right footwear, and being mindful of your playing environment can all help reduce your risk of sprains. Using supportive gear like ankle braces or KT tape can also be beneficial, especially if you’ve had sprains in the past.

Q: What’s the difference between a high ankle sprain and a low ankle sprain?

 A: A low ankle sprain, the most common type, involves the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle and usually occurs when the foot is twisted inward. A high ankle sprain involves the ligaments that connect the two long bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula. High ankle sprains are less common but tend to be more severe and take longer to heal.

Q: How can I tell if my ankle sprain is getting better?

A: Improvement in an ankle sprain is typically marked by decreased pain, reduced swelling, increased range of motion, and improved ability to bear weight on the affected foot. However, it’s important to remember that healing times can vary based on the severity of the sprain and individual factors. If you’re unsure about your progress, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional.

Q: Are there any long-term effects of ankle sprains?

A: Most ankle sprains heal without long-term issues if they’re properly treated. However, repeated sprains or severe injuries can lead to chronic ankle instability or an increased likelihood of arthritis in the ankle joint. That’s why it’s so important to allow your ankle to fully heal and to take steps to prevent future sprains.








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