Effects of 1 Week of Unilateral Ankle Immobilization on Plantar-Flexor Strength, Balance, and Walking Speed: A Pilot Study in Asymptomatic Volunteers

in Journal of Sport Rehabilitation
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Context:

Ankle immobilization is often used after ankle injury.

Objective:

To determine the influence of 1 week’s unilateral ankle immobilization on plantar-flexor strength, balance, and walking gait in asymptomatic volunteers.

Design:

Repeated-measures laboratory study.

Setting:

University laboratory.

Participants:

6 physically active male participants with no recent history of lower-limb injury.

Interventions:

Participants completed a 1-wk period of ankle immobilization achieved through wearing a below-knee ankle cast. Before the cast was applied, as well as immediately, 24 h, and 48 h after cast removal, their plantar-flexor strength was assessed isokinetically, and they completed a single-leg balance task as a measure of proprioceptive function. An analysis of their walking gait was also completed

Main Outcome Measures:

Peak plantar-flexor torque and balance were used to determine any effect on muscle strength and proprioception after cast removal. Ranges of motion (3D) of the ankle, knee, and hip, as well as walking speed, were used to assess any influence on walking gait.

Results:

After cast removal, plantar-flexor strength was reduced for the majority of participants (P = .063, CI = −33.98 to 1.31) and balance performance was reduced in the immobilized limb (P < .05, CI = 0.84−5.16). Both strength and balance were not significantly different from baseline levels by 48 h. Walking speed was not significantly different immediately after cast removal but increased progressively above baseline walking speed over the following 48 h. Joint ranges of motion were not significantly different at any time point.

Conclusions:

The reduction in strength and balance after such a short period of immobilization suggested compromised central and peripheral neural mechanisms. This suggestion appeared consistent with the delayed increase in walking speed that could occur as a result of the excitability of the neural pathways increasing toward baseline levels.

Caplan, Forbes, Stewart, Ewen, and Kader are with the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Radha is with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, UK. St Clair Gibson is with the School of Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Address author correspondence to Nick Caplan at nick.caplan@northumbria.ac.uk.