Ankle exercises to help build strength and prevent injury

When Chris Peterson sprained his ankle while playing football in high school, he pulled it out because of a minor injury. His ankle was sore for a few days, but no one suggested he see a doctor, and before long, it was feeling better. Peterson, now a physiotherapist at Washington University in St. Louis, said: “I get back to playing as soon as I can. However, even though his ankle didn’t hurt, it wasn’t the same after that.

“I took the wrong step, and my ankle wasn’t there,” which often leads to falls, he says.

Ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries. The official estimate is Two million people in the US sprain their ankles every yearbut the real number may be much higher, as many people never seek care for their injuries.

While an ankle sprain may seem like a minor injury, having one leads to a much higher chance of recurrence. In one military officer academy, people with a history of ankle sprains were 3.4 times more likely to develop an ankle sprain during the study than those with no history of ankle sprains. For a estimated 40 percent of peopleAnkle sprains can lead to chronic ankle instability, characterized by a rolling ankle, a general feeling of wobble and instability, and occasional pain, tenderness or swelling.

If you’ve sprained your ankle before, that doesn’t mean you have to go through life with an aching, wobbly joint, fearful of the moment it will give way. Experts recommend a number of exercises to strengthen the ankle, thereby reducing the risk of spraining, whether it’s the first or 10th time.

“The biggest reason people get recurrent ankle sprains is that they never do rehabilitation,” says Dr. Michael Fredericson, a sports doctor at Stanford University.

The ankle is a complex collection of bones and ligaments sewn together, connecting the tibia and fibula of the leg to the delicate bones of the foot. It has to work a lot, bear the entire weight of the body and bend and bend in many directions. It is this flexibility, coupled with the constant workload, that makes it very difficult and important to fully recover from an ankle injury, as it is easy to cause the ankle to relapse. “There’s not much room for error, especially if you play sports,” says Dr. Fredericson.

The important thing is exercise. In one Recent meta-analysis Among 14 randomized controlled trials, exercise-based interventions were more effective in reducing the risk of sprain recurrence than usual care, which typically includes rest, ice, and compression. advanced.

“We know that exercise therapy works,” said Jente Wagemans, a doctoral student at the University of Antwerp and lead author of the study. “We know that it is effective in preventing secondary injuries.”

Even for the first few days after a sprain, it can help with ankle mobility. Alysia Robichau, a sports doctor at Houston Methodist Hospital, often recommends very light, non-weight-bearing activity, such as tracing the alphabet with your feet, in the days following a sprain . “That helps smooth range of motion,” she says.

Once the ligament has begun to heal, which occurs during the first few weeks after the sprain, the next step is to exercise with weights. Like bones and muscles, Wagemans explains, ligaments become stronger as you apply increasing force.

Unlike bones, ankle ligaments need to be strengthened in many directions, because the joint is very mobile. A simple ankle strengthening exercises is to loop a resistance band around the foot and attach it to something heavy, like a table leg. Then bend your feet forward, back and to the side, aiming for 3 sets of 15 repetitions each.

If you’re trying to prevent an ankle injury, these exercises should be done three to four times a week. If you’re recovering from a recent ankle sprain, any exercises should be under the guidance of a physical therapist, who will tailor them to the injury.

Every time you step on an uneven surface or have to put your foot quickly, the small nerves in your ankle automatically help it stay stable instead of rolling or twisting. Think of them as a lane-assist feature in some cars, says Dr. Peterson, that makes very small steering adjustments to prevent drift, except for the nerves that bring your ankle back into position. neutral mind. A major cause of ankle wobble is when a sprain also damages these regulating nerves.

Jeff Harvath, a physical therapist at Washington University in St.

If your ankle feels wobbly or unstable or has a habit of rolling around, you need to retrain the nerves in that area. “It’s about teaching the muscles and ligaments to work together in the right ways,” says Dr. Robichau.

One of the best ways to do this is one leg balance exercise. To start, balance on one leg, reaching your arms in different directions, for a set of 20 repetitions. It’s important to use a variety of movements, such as reaching out for something, shifting your body weight, closing your eyes, or even standing on one foot while brushing your teeth. “The more realistic it is, the more it translates” into everyday life, says Dr. Peterson.

Once you’re comfortable with this, incorporate an element of instability by balancing on a couch cushion, foam balance pad, or a Bosu ball. For an added challenge, add a pill or light weight ball. Another variation is Star foot stand faucet. Balance on one leg and reach the other leg out in a straight line, forward, to the sides, and back clockwise, aiming for two sets of 15 repetitions.

The muscles of your legs, ankles, and feet also play an important role in ankle stability, which is why it’s important to strengthen them. Whenever your ankle joint is pulled in the wrong direction, your ankle and calf muscles help pull it back. “We don’t want to rely on ligaments for everything,” Dr Harvath said.

This includes the muscles in our shins, which help tilt our feet in, out, up, and down. Strengthening these muscles can help compensate for weaknesses in the ligaments of the ankle. Dr. Harvath recommends rush into an unstable surface, such as a couch cushion, a foam balance pad, or a Bosu ball. He recommends two sets of 15 repetitions for each leg.

Another exercise for your calves and ankles is heel stand raised, which can be done with one leg or both legs. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Just tiptoe up, then lower your heel 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, the ankle instability forced him to stop playing football and persisted for about 10 years. It was only when he attended physical therapy school that he began his ankle-strengthening exercise routine.

Today, although the ligaments in his ankle were still damaged, he was able to compensate and provide the necessary stability. He does all his favorite activities, such as running marathons and climbing mountains, without worrying about his ankles. For many of the patients he sees, regaining strength and stability in their ankles is a matter of learning exercises to perform. “It’s usually very simple,” he said.

Rachel Fairbank is a freelance science writer living in Texas.

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