Preparatory co-activation of the ankle muscles may prevent ankle inversion injuries

J Biomech. 2017 Feb 8:52:17-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2016.11.002. Epub 2016 Dec 7.


Ankle inversion sprains are the most frequent acute musculoskeletal injuries occurring in physical activity. Interventions that retrain muscle coordination have helped rehabilitate injured ankles, but it is unclear which muscle coordination strategies, if any, can prevent ankle sprains. The purpose of this study was to determine whether coordinated activity of the ankle muscles could prevent excessive ankle inversion during a simulated landing on a 30° incline. We used a set of musculoskeletal simulations to evaluate the efficacy of two strategies for coordinating the ankle evertor and invertor muscles during simulated landing scenarios: planned co-activation and stretch reflex activation with physiologic latency (60-ms delay). A full-body musculoskeletal model of landing was used to generate simulations of a subject dropping onto an inclined surface with each coordination condition. Within each condition, the intensity of evertor and invertor co-activity or stretch reflexes were varied systematically. The simulations revealed that strong preparatory co-activation of the ankle evertors and invertors prior to ground contact prevented ankle inversion from exceeding injury thresholds by rapidly generating eversion moments after initial contact. Conversely, stretch reflexes were too slow to generate eversion moments before the simulations reached the threshold for inversion injury. These results suggest that training interventions to protect the ankle should focus on stiffening the ankle with muscle co-activation prior to landing. The musculoskeletal models, controllers, software, and simulation results are freely available online at, enabling others to reproduce the results and explore new injury scenarios and interventions.

Keywords: Ankle; Co-activation; Reflex; Simulation; Sprain.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle / physiology*
  • Ankle Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reflex, Stretch
  • Software
  • Young Adult