Traditionally, balance training has been used as part of the rehabilitation programme for ankle injuries. More recently, balance training has been adopted to try and prevent injuries to the ankle and knee joints during sport. The purpose of this review is to synthesise current knowledge in the area of balance ability, training and injury risk, highlight the findings and identify any future research needs. A number of studies have found that poor balance ability is significantly related to an increased risk of ankle injuries in different activities. This relationship appears to be more common in males than females.
Multifaceted intervention studies that have included balance training along with jumping, landing and agility exercises have resulted in a significant decrease in ankle or knee injuries in team handball, volleyball and recreational athletes. It is unknown which component of the multifaceted intervention was most effective and whether the effects are additive. As a single intervention, balance training has been shown to significantly reduce the recurrence of ankle ligament injuries in soccer, volleyball and recreational athletes; however, it has not been clearly shown to reduce ankle injuries in athletes without a prior ankle injury. Balance training on its own has also been shown to significantly reduce anterior cruciate ligament injuries in male soccer players. Surprisingly, it was also found to be significantly associated with an increased risk of major knee injuries in female soccer players and overuse knee injuries in male and female volleyball players. The studies with the contrasting findings differed in aspects of their balance training programmes.
It would appear that balance training, as a single intervention, is not as effective as when it is part of a multifaceted intervention. Research is required to determine the relative contribution of balance training to a multifaceted intervention so as to generate an effective and efficient preventative programme that can be adopted by athletes of most levels.