Learn from Rory and Protect Your Ankles

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“Rory McIlroy” (CC BY 2.0) by TourProGolfClubs

Rory McIlroy snapped a 16-month PGA Tour trophy drought in September at the Deutsche Bank Championship before following up with a win at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. It was the end of a long, difficult road for the world number two, who has struggled with an anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) injury and a lack of confidence on the course in recent months.

Despite dropping out of the Turkish Airlines Open this week due to security concerns, leaving the Race to Dubai up to fate, the Irishman is arguably in a better place than he was at the beginning of the campaign. The bookies’ odds for the former competition still reflect a lack of confidence in the player, however; he is 66/1 in the Bet635 golf betting for the event in the Emirates but, with three victories in four years, he really ought to be a favorite.

There is still a lingering doubt cast by that 2015 ankle problem though and what it means for McIlroy’s future on the course.

Scar Tissue

A study conducted by Penn State University in 1999 revealed that 10-30% of people never fully recover from ATFL ruptures and have to tolerate lifelong complications, such as

tendinitis and localized swelling. These ailments can directly affect a player’s game by reducing the amount of power they can put into their downswing.

Rory intimated at the time of his accident – which, ironically enough, happened on a football pitch – that his was a category III sprain, amounting to a high degree of damage to the ligament and the joint capsule, a sack of tissue that encloses the joint itself.

McIlroy hasn’t been on form for a while and it may have something to do with the fact that scar tissue in the ankle joint can reduce a player’s timing and accuracy in the swing. It’s interesting to note that the same study also discovered that surgery and less invasive treatments didn’t reduce the incidence of problems in the long term.

It’s speculation, of course, but McIlroy has had his worst year since 2013 as far as the Majors are concerned, tying for tenth and fifth in the Masters and the Open Championship, respectively, and failing to make the cut in the US Open and the PGA Championship. There was also that lack of trophies on the PGA tour, all in the wake of his injury.

Considering that rotation around his left ankle is central to McIlroy’s swing, it’s easy to why an old injury in the joint might be a problem.

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“Rory McIlroy clubs” (CC BY 2.0) by TourProGolfClubs

‘Loose’ Ankles

So, what does Rory’s ankle mean for the amateur player? ATFL ruptures aren’t particularly common in golfers – the top five injuries are back, elbow, foot, knee and shoulder – but the ankle is one of the most overlooked training areas for players, despite the fact that many of the most common exercises, such as squats, require a stable ankle.

With its wide range of motion, the ankle can easily roll the wrong way, especially on an uneven golf course, and ankles have the frustrating property of becoming weaker with every subsequent sprain. Runners, footballers and basketball players, for example, can develop ‘loose’ ankles after two or three injuries, in which the ligaments begin to lose their strength.

If you don’t already, consider adding ankle strengthening exercises into your training regimen – even the humble lunge can help build strength in the joint – and it might just save your golf swing in the future.

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