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Why Lonzo Ball could be at risk for more ankle sprains, and how to prevent that

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Lonzo Ball spraining his ankle isn’t that concerning immediately, but there’s a potential deficit that could increase his risk moving forward.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In Tuesday’s ill-fated loss to the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball twisted his left ankle (the same ankle he said he sprained recently) when he got tangled with Denver Nuggets Malik Beasley.

By all indicators — from viewing the sprain on TV, to astute and cautious Lakers head athletic trainer Marco Nunez allowing Ball back into the game — I’m nearly sure that Ball suffered a Grade 1 sprain to that left ankle:

lonzo ball Image via Kintect

A Grade 1 sprain involves micro-tearing and stretching of the ligament, with a timeline of return that’s less than a week. The ankle will have some swelling (inflammation) which is part of the body’s healing process and Ball will be assessed on a day by day basis. Officially, he’s been listed as questionable.

The sprain itself doesn’t concern me much — it’s mild and Lonzo Ball has a great healthcare plan. However, what does concern me is the potential risk for spraining the ankle again, especially now that Ball has tweaked the same ankle twice in the same way (inwards, known as inversion ankle sprain)

Whenever you sprain your ankle inwards, muscles on the outside of your ankle called the peroneals get stretched out:

lonzo ball Image via DocPods

These muscles contain tiny little sensors called proprioceptors. These sensors are part of your proprioception system which provides unconscious feedback to your brain about where your body parts are in space. For example, if you close your eyes and move your hands around, it’s your proprioceptive system which allows you to know which way your hands are moving.

When the pereonal muscles get stretched, these sensors also get damaged. It’s these sensors that are critical for preventing ankle sprains because when the ankle starts to roll inwards, they send an alert signal to the brain which then activates the peroneals and snaps the ankle back to safety.

In Lonzo’s case, he’s now had two ankle rolls, which means these sensors may be even more impaired, and thus he’s at higher risk for injury. This is why it’s common to see a player suffer a cluster of ankle sprains.

However, all hope is not lost. There’s a really effective way to re-train the ankle and its proprioception system: Better balance. Research shows that a step-wise progression of balance exercises works wonders for reducing ankle sprains. I can speak to it myself as I went from rolling my ankles three to four times monthly (I called my ligaments “paper-mache”) to not spraining an ankle in years.

Here’s an example I created of that balance progression:

So to sum it up — Lonzo’s current mild ankle sprain isn’t all too concerning when looked at in a vacuum, and it sounds like he should be back soon. However, he needs to continue to work on re-training his proprioceptive system via balance progressions to decrease his risk for future sprains. If you have a history of ankle sprains, you should too.

Dr. Rajpal Brar has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University, and runs his own sports medicine and performance business, 3CB Performance, in West LA and Valencia, CA. He also works at a hospital — giving him experience with patients in the immediate healthcare setting and neurological patients (post stroke, post brain injury) — and has been practicing for 1.5 years. Brar is additionally training at UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC), and analyzes the Lakers from a medical perspective for Silver Screen and Roll.