Common Injuries: Ankle Sprains and Shin Splints

What are the most common injuries and how can I keep them away?

The most common injuries in youth sports are not serious ones. Bumps and bruises happen regularly and the well-prepared coach has first aid supplies and ice or a cold pack ready. Two common injuries that can be serious and sometimes long-lasting are ankle sprains and shin splints.

2012-10-04_20-45-12_803Ankle Sprains

The ankle is a complicated hinge joint with many ligaments supporting. When it gets stepped on or rolled, the ligaments are stretched or torn resulting in a sprain. There is usually pain, swelling, bruising, instability of the joint and an inability to bear weight.

Treatment for an acute injury is: stop activity (rest), ice, elevate. A brace or splint may be recommended. If the athlete is unable to bear weight or there is significant swelling and deformity, an x-ray may be needed to rule out fracture. Unfortunately, once ankle has been sprained, it may become chronically unstable and high risk for another sprain. Thus, preventive training and conditioning are essential.


  • Strengthen with one-footed hops, one-legged squats, heel walking, toe walking
  • Strengthen internal and external rotation using resistance bands around foot
  • Work on coordination and balance: wobble boards, foam rollers, one-legged hop and (gentle) shove
  • Work on dynamic balance and proprioception with jumps, hops, skips
  • Stretch through full range of motion after training

A note on re-injury and ankle bracing/taping: weak ankles and previous sprains can make athletes more prone to ankle injury.They should be doing these exercises at least 2-3 times/week even after they are recovered. Ankle bracing or taping can be helpful in the transition from injury to return to play because it provides artificial support. But athletes should not rely on the brace in place of developing the strength and support needed for sensation and full movement.

To strengthen ankles against sprains, these will help:

Save the Ankles! Make Strengthening into Dynamic and Fun Fitness

Prepare Their Ankles! Youth Soccer is More NASCAR, Less Drivers Ed


Shin Splints

shin splintThe tibia and fibula bones and the muscles that run along their length that dorsi-flex at the ankle and extend the toes form the front of the shin. When the tendons of those muscles are strained, small tears in the attachment of muscle to bone become painfully inflamed. Usually there is tenderness along the crest of the shin bone (anterior shin splints) or distal 1/3 of tibia (medial or posterior shin splints).

Shins splints are most often caused by:

  • Running on hard surfaces in non-cushioned, unsupportive shoes
  • Improper running form; esp. running on the toes or heavy and flat-footed
  • Poor calf flexibility and tight tibial muscles which decrease the cushion in landings
  • Change in running surface and/or sudden increase in training volume increase risk

At the first sign of shin pain, reduce training volume and avoid running on hard surfaces. Ice for 15 minutes 3x/day. Cross friction massage and foam rolling will help to break up adhesions and promote healing. Shin splints tend to persist and worsen if not completely healed. If the shin is tender to direct pressure and there is no relief from pain after resting from training, the athlete should be evaluated for stress fracture. An athlete who continues to play on a stress fracture risks a complete or more involved fracture which requires 6 weeks of complete leg rest for full recovery and return to play. This is why prevention is imperative! Stress rest!


  • Strengthen anterior tibial muscles (toe raises off step)
  • Stretch Achilles tendon/calf muscles (lower heel off step)
  • Discourage the wearing of high heeled shoes
  • Arch supports to decrease pronation may help

To strengthen lower legs and protect against shin splints try this.

Two Simple Ways to Beat Shin Splints