It all comes down to one weak muscle, tendon or ligament. One second you're a young LeBron. The next, crumpled on the court, writhing in pain, out for the season.
[caption id="attachment_4812" align="alignleft" width="400"] UC Santa Barbara player Zalmico Harmon. Note how his right foot is flat on the court and his leg is bent outwards as he's pivoting. Your ankles and feet had better be in excellent condition to do that every day.[/caption]
Basketball demands a lot of your ankles and feet - they're subjected to sudden, explosive movements, quick turns, and a relentless pounding on a hard surface. If your lower extremities aren't in perfect condition, a lot can go wrong very quickly. The best way to avoid a missed game or worse, a lost season, is to keep your feet and ankles (and the rest of you) in peak condition. These exercises will work muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your toes, feet, and ankles which are often neglected, at the athlete's risk.
But before we get into that, we'd like to mention that a basketball player should use braces and tape as little as possible during training. They're very useful when recovering from an injury, but for training purposes, they'll work against you. If the muscles in your feet and ankles are immobilized and artificially supported by tape or other means, they don't get worked. And a muscle that doesn't get worked is a weak muscle.
Occasionally you should train in bare feet. We know this isn't a practical suggestion in a public space, but when you're working out solo at home, ditch the basketball shoes whenever possible. The foot is the base of the ankle - build it naturally, without restraint, for better balance, mobility, and strength.
1. Loosen your plantar fascia and foot muscles
While sitting, roll a tennis ball around with the bottom of your foot, applying light pressure. Work it under the arch, the toes, and your heel for 5 minutes on each foot.
2. Develop your Dorsiflexion and Plantar Flexion
When your feet flex upward toward your body, it's dorsiflexion, as when you land on the court after a jump. When the foot flexes down or away, it's plantar flexion, as when you make a jump, sprint, or cut. To condition your muscles to endure this full range of motion, perform a unilateral stretch:
- Stand on one leg, bend forward, and place your hands on a wall for balance.
- Stretch your calf muscle and achilles tendon by pushing down on your knee and keeping your foot flat.
- Raise yourself on your toes to stretch your calf.
3. Develop Ankle Strength
- Wrap a band around the ball of your foot. Pull back, creating tension on the band, but just enough so you can still move your foot. Push your foot against the band and hold for one second. This strengthens the muscles used for plantar flexion.
- Wrap the band around the ball of your foot and pull to create tension. Then push on the foot with the other foot. Pull your toes back toward you, hold for one second, and release. This strengthens the muscles used for dorsiflexion.
- Start in the same position as above. But this time, keep your foot straight and rotate it outward. Hold for one second. This increases the strength of the muscles that control eversion and inversion, the movements that tilt the sole of the foot towards (inversion) or away from (eversion) the midline of your body.
Take the time to do the proper conditioning, and chances are you'll stay safe on the basketball court. If you experience any pain at all, take a break and get the advice of your trainer before continuing. Then follow up with a podiatrist who is expert in sports medicine for a full evaluation.