Work Your Ankles Full Range Of Motion
When you exercise your ankles, move them around so that you utilize your joints full range of motion. One good way to do this is by using your feet to write the alphabet, all the way from A to Z. Sit on the ground and bend your legs in front of you, crossing one over the other. Then, use one foot to write each letter of the alphabet or just move your ankle in circles, going both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Be sure to switch and exercise both ankles.
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Why Is Ankle Strengthening Important
There are four main reasons why ankle strengthening is so significant.
- First, strong ankles can help to prevent falls and ankle sprains.
- Second, ankle strengthening can help improve your balance and proprioception .
- Third, stronger ankles can improve performance in sports and other physical activities.
- And finally, ankle strengthening can help prevent injuries to other body parts, such as the knees, hips, and back.
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Strong Ankles Prevent Injuries
One of the most important reasons to perform ankle strengthening exercises is to prevent ankle sprains and other ankle-related injuries. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, particularly in sports. Its estimated that ankle sprains account for 16-40% of all sports-related injuries.
A study by Gribble et al. looked at the ankle injury rates in a group of high school athletes. They found that the ankle injury rate was significantly lower in those who performed ankle strengthening exercises than those who did not.
Another study by Hertel et al. looked at college athletes and found that those with stronger ankles were less likely to suffer from an ankle sprain.
The resounding results of the research show that the more you work on strengthening and balancing at the ankle, the less frequent and the less intense your future injuries will be.
These studies show that ankle strengthening exercises can help prevent ankle injuries in athletes. However, these results demonstrate the need for an ankle strengthening program for the general public and not just athletes.
Passive Heel Cord Stretch
This stretching exercise can be done anywhere you have a wall and works the calf, including the gastrocnemius muscle that supports and flexes the ankle.
To perform this stretch, stand facing a wall with one leg forward with a slightly bent knee. Your other leg should be straight and behind you, heel flat and toes pointed in slightly.
Keeping both heels flat on the floor and your back straight, press your hips forward toward the wall. Hold for 30 seconds, relax for 30 seconds, repeat, then switch legs. Repeat three times for each leg.
For a slightly different stretch, bend the back knee slightly.
This stretch works the Achilles tendon in addition to the calf muscles. Achilles tendonitis is a common cause of ankle pain, so keep your Achilles tendon strong and limber!
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Anatomy Review Of The Ankle
The ankle is a hinge joint made up of three bones: the Tibia, Fibula, and Talus. The Tibia and Fibula are the two long bones in your lower leg, while the Talus sits on top of the ankle and acts as a pivot point. These bones are connected by ligaments, which help keep the ankle stable.
There are also two main muscles on the back of the ankle that help with movement and propulsion: the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus.
The Gastrocnemius is a large muscle that covers the back of the calf, while the Soleus is a smaller muscle located underneath it. These muscles help point your foot downwards, otherwise known as Plantarflexion.
On each side of the ankle is a group of muscles and tendons that control the side-to-side stability of the ankle. These muscle groups prevent the ankle from rolling, as many people know with ankle sprains.
These muscles on the sides of the ankle also help with the stability of the foots arch. The most well-known muscles in these groups are Tibialis Posterior and the Peroneals.
Finally, the group of muscles on the front of the leg or shin help pull the toes and the foot up off the ground. These muscles stabilize the front of the ankle and also help with the stability of the foots arch.
Now that weve reviewed the ankle anatomy, lets look at the research on why ankle strengthening is essential for everyone.
Symptoms Of Weak Ankles
If you arent sure if your ankles are as strong as they should be, look for the following symptoms. These are indications of weakened ankles:
- Rolling or turning your ankle on a result basis. Usually, this involves you rolling the joint to the outside. This is the most common symptom of a weakened ankle joint
- Being susceptible to ankle sprains and other ankle related injuries
- Balancing problems
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The Muscles Of The Ankle
There are many muscles that cross the ankle joint, including the gastrocnemius, soleus, posterior tibialis, flexor hallucis longus, and peroneal longis and brevis. Youll want to strengthen these muscles in a few different ways. Each muscle contributes to both moving your ankle and stabilizing the ankle joint.
When muscles on one side of the joint contract or shorten, the ankle moves in that direction, simultaneously lengthening the muscles on the opposite side. When you want to stay still, instead of none of the muscles being active, you want multiple muscles to work together, or “co-contract” preventing movement in multiple directions at the same time.
Many of the strengthening exercises for the ankle focus on ankle stability, which is important for any running or jumping sport, as well as daily function. But ankle stability doesn’t just come from your musclesit also comes from your brain. This is where proprioception matters By practicing these drills, you can help your brain know how and when to stabilize the ankle joint, and support that system with stronger ankle muscles.
Check out this list of ankle exercises that target both the muscles in and around the joint, as well as the system that helps activate them when you need them most.
Move : Passive Toe Spreading
Toe abduction mobilizes the bones, muscles and connective tissues for better intrinsic foot muscle strength, circulation and nerve health, Bowman says.
“There are 33 joints in the foot that would normally be mobilized by walking over small pebbles, sticks and varying terrain,” Bowman says. “Because our feet are only exposed to a flat sole and flat ground, these joints become immobile and the muscles that connect them are extremely stiff and atrophied. Working the foot over the ball introduces a range of motion to these joints.”
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Try Taping Your Ankles
If you’re especially concerned about ankle sprains or strains, we can recommend a taping pattern or brace to support your ankle joints when you’re active. Use high quality, 1-inch athletic tape to wrap around your ankles in a pattern that evenly distributes pressure around the joints.
If you’re concerned about your ankle wellness or need support in recovering from a sprain, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Optima Foot and Ankle today.
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Resistance Exercises For The Ankle
The first type of ankle strengthening exercise is resistance exercise. These exercises involve moving the ankle against a resistive force, such as a resistance band or ankle weight. To get a resistance band, check out this post on our favorite resistance bands.
Many different resistance exercises can be done to strengthen the ankle. Here are a few examples:
- Ankle Dorsiflexion: Sit with your leg extended in front of you. Place a resistance band around your foot and pull the band towards you, keeping your knee straight.
- Ankle Plantarflexion: Sit with your leg extended in front of you. Place a resistance band around your foot and push the band away from you, keeping your knee straight.
- Ankle Inversion: Sit with your leg extended to the side. Place a resistance band around your foot and ankle and pull the band towards the other leg, keeping your knee straight.
- Ankle Eversion: Sit with your leg extended to the side. Place a resistance band around your foot and ankle and push the band away from your other leg, keeping your knee straight.
These are just a few examples of resistance exercises that can be done to strengthen the ankle. Many other exercises can be done with a resistance band these are simply classic exercises.
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Podiatrists In Cincinnati Ohio
Here at Cincinnati Foot & Ankle Care, our experienced podiatrists can rehabilitate weak areas and treat injuries that affect the foot and ankle. We have simple therapeutic methods as well as minimally invasive pain-relief treatments, all the way to foot surgery if necessary.
Single Leg Stance On A Towel
Verywell / Ben Goldstein
Ankle injuries often affect your balance. Balance activities can help prevent future injury. Do these towards the end of your rehabilitation.
Perform this exercise 10 times in a row. When you’re ready, increase the challenge by standing on more unsteady surfaces like a wobble board.
Your physical therapist may also have you use a BAPS board while working on balance exercises.
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How Do I Strengthen My Ankle After A Sprain
Following an ankle sprain, you may start strengthening exercises once you can bear weight comfortably and your range of motion is near full. Make sure to check with your foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon before you begin.
There are several types of strengthening exercises. It is easiest to begin with isometric exercises that you do by pushing against a fixed object with your ankle. Once you have mastered isometric exercises, you can progress to isotonic exercises.
In isotonic exercises, you use your ankle’s range of motion against some form of resistance. The photos below show isotonic exercises performed with a resistance band, which you can get from your local physical therapist or a sporting goods store.
Slowly Strengthening The Ankle
Once the ligament has started healing, which happens in the first few weeks after a sprain, the next step is weight-bearing exercise. Like bones and muscles, Mr. Wagemans explained, ligaments become stronger when you apply increasing amounts of force.
Unlike bones, ankle ligaments need to be strengthened in multiple directions, because the joint is so mobile. One simple ankle-strengthening exercise is to loop a resistance band around the foot and attach it to something heavy, like a table leg. Then flex the foot forward, backward and sideways, aiming for three sets of 15 repetitions each.
If you are trying to prevent ankle injuries, these exercises should be done three to four times a week. If you are recovering from a recent ankle sprain, any exercises should be under the guidance of a physical therapist, who will tailor them to the injury.
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Heel Walk Exercise For Stronger Ankles
If youve recently injured your ankle and had to endure an enforced period of rest to let your ankle heal, you will need to re-build strength in all the muscles around the ankle joint.
This simple ankle drill focuses on active ankle dorsiflexion and strengthens dorsiflexor muscles such as tibialis anterior.
Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction
PTTD is usually caused by an impact injury or overuse.
- inward rolling of the ankle
- flattening of the foot
- turning outward of your foot and toes
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Move : Great Toe Lift
The muscle group that lifts your big toes is one of the strongest muscles in the foot, Bowman says, and restoring strength to the group can assist in restoring strength and motor control of the foot and stability of the ankle.
To make this more challenging, Bowman recommends eliminating sideways motion of the big toe as it lifts. â should lift up, not lift up and go sideways,â she says.
Stabilize And Support Ankle Joints
Like we discussed earlier, the ankle joint is delicate and sophisticated. Although it is built perfectly to bear the pressure of flexing movements and extreme burden without budging, there are times when it may just snap. Oops!
You can use ankle sleeves if you are performing tasks where you can easily twist your ankle a little too much, like football, weight lifting, running in rocky terrain, rugby, dancing, stretching, and many more situations. Stay safe from sudden shocks and badly -timed injuries with a pair of ankle sleeves.
Brace your ankles for better support and greater performance with these simple garment sleeves. They are not very expensive, but they offer perfect security against acute stretching and muscle tearing.
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How To Prevent Weak Ankles In The Future
In order to prevent injury and weakness, its important to maintain strong ankles even when they seem to be in good working order. This can be done with ankle strengthening exercises, but also through strength training activities. Have you seen Aaptivs strength training classes?
Luciani suggests doing some barefoot work before a workout to help warm-up your ankles. This reduces the chance of injury. Before lacing up shoes, take a couple minutes to just jog in socks, and then perform a couple different balancing exercises, she says, specifically single-leg balances or deadlifts. She also suggests regularly practicing yoga . Its great for stability since you are literally in bare feet the whole time.
But, one thing Luciani stresses is that its important to rest your ankles if youve severely injured them. If its a fresh ankle , take the time to recover, because even if youre only working your upper body, lots of blood is still flowing in the body, which can increase inflammation in the damaged tissue, she explains. But, otherwise, weak ankles only get stronger through work.
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Strong Muscles To Support Your Ankles
The muscles of your legs, ankles and feet also play an important role in ankle stability, which is why its important to strengthen them. Whenever your ankle joint gets pulled in the wrong direction, your ankle and calf muscles help pull it back. We dont want to rely on ligaments for everything, Dr. Harvath said.
This includes the muscles of our lower legs, which tilt our foot in, out, up and down. Strengthening these muscles can help compensate for weaknesses in the ligaments of the ankle. Dr. Harvath recommended lunges onto an unstable surface, such as a couch cushion, foam balance pad or Bosu ball. He recommended two sets of 15 repetitions for each leg.
Another exercise for your calves and ankles is the standing heel raise, which can be done with a single leg or both legs. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Simply rise to your tiptoes, then lower your heels to the ground. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions.
If done regularly, these exercises can both prevent and help you recover from injury. As for Dr. Peterson, his ankle instability forced him to stop playing football and persisted for about 10 years. It was only when he went to school for physical therapy that he started his own ankle-strengthening exercise routine.
Rachel Fairbank is a freelance science writer based in Texas.
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Move : Active Toe Spreading
A lifetime of footwear can decrease the intrinsic strength the muscles of your feet would build walking around barefoot. According to Bowman, this exercise helps to restore foot strength.