For those of you who have had the unfortunate run in with a sprained ankle, this article is for you. For those of you who have never sustained an injury, this article is also for you. The next time you walk into the bathroom to brush your teeth, think multitask and save your ankles from a devastating sprain with these easy strengthening exercises.
The ankle is held together by many ligaments. While the ankle was designed very well for the dorsiflexion- plantarflexion movements of straight forward walking and running, the lateral structures supporting the ankle are weaker and are at risk during side to side movement. The most commonly sprained ligaments in the ankle are the anterior talofibular ligament, the ATFL, and the calcaneofibular ligament, the CFL. These ligaments can be injured during extreme inversion, or outward rolling, of the ankle.
Your ankle also has muscles and tendons that move the foot and ankle, and stabilize the arch in addition to many other functions. These muscles and tendons can be strengthened to improve the stability of your ankle and prevent future injury to the structures. Applying controlled, moderate forces through the ligaments and other collagen structures in the ankle help to improve the strength and flexibility of these tissues.
Easy Ankle Exercises
First, put a sticky note in the corner of your bathroom mirror to remind yourself to do the exercises. A little visual never hurt. In the two minutes that you are brushing your teeth, try this:
#1. Balance on one foot for a minute. Switch to the other foot. Feel your fibularis muscles, the muscles along the outside of your leg from your ankle to your knee, turn on. Try to keep your balance for the full minute on each side, but use a fingertip on the counter to keep from falling. You can build up to a full minute starting with whatever you can hold and going up from there. While doing this exercise, try not to let your hips sag; you should see the line of your hips straight in your mirror. If it is too difficult to brush at the same time, add that in later.
#2. Walk on your toes. Try pacing the bathroom or walk down the hall on your toes staying tall. There is a reason dancers have strong ankles! You can also try doing calf raises at the counter to build strength in your calves before you try walking. While doing this exercise, think about coming up onto your toes with your weight centered over your 2nd toe. Try to keep your ankles straight, do not allow too much rolling in either direction. (This is a also good for ankle strength, but focus here on straight and tall.) For ideal alignment and efficiency during walking, each time you take a step you should roll over and push off your 2nd toe in a straight line.
#3. Walk on the sides of your feet. Work on curling your toes to lift your arch and really walking on the outsides of your feet. This position may feel like you are about to roll your ankle so be careful if your ankles begin to hurt or if you do not feel like you have complete control of your balance. This exercise will help the flexibility and strength of your lateral ligaments and muscle tendons in your ankle. Your ankles may become sore or your arch may become cramped. This is ok, it is a sign that you are engaging muscles that may not have been challenged in a while. Just proceed slowly and with caution.
Feel free to do any combination of these exercises as your ankle strength improves. You can do one minute single leg stands on your toes! Or, try doing calf raises with your ankles turned slightly out or in. Key things to focus on are balance, strength, and flexibility.