Why strengthen your ankles
Most of us know the importance of good leg and core strength, but we pay little attention to ankle strength and stability. “Ankle sprains are the most common lower-limb injury in physical activity,” says physiotherapist Stuart Mailer from Kensington Physio & Sports Medicine (kenphysio.com).
When we run, the foot makes contact with the ground. Our feet and ankles contribute to absorbing ground reaction forces, providing a stable yet mobile platform to help us push off and drive forward. “The ankle and foot are composed of many joints and muscle groups, that have to work in cohesion to give us this stability, mobility and the ability to generate power,” says Mailer. “The muscle groups help to control ankle motion, preventing us from rolling over our ankle (known as ‘inversion’) or rolling inward too much (known as ‘pronation’).”
“If your ankles are unstable, you have poor balance or the muscle groups are weak that support your ankle, then there is a higher chance of rolling over your ankle, causing an ankle sprain or other overuse injuries such as Achilles Tendonitis or plantar fasciitis,” says Mailer.
How are ankle sprains caused?
Ankle sprains can be caused by excessive motion at the ankle joints and our muscles not having the ability to correct quickly enough to unstable surfaces. “Trail running is highly unpredictable and, with so many variables with the surface, there is undoubtedly a higher chance of slipping or rolling over your ankle,” says Mailer. The better the balance and strength you have, the more you can reduce your chance of injury.” If you’ve had an ankle sprain in the past then there is a higher chance of this reoccurring.
How to recover from ankle injury
If you twist your ankle running, recovery depends on the nature and extent of the injury. Apply ice and elevate the ankle, trying to offload it as much as possible while the swelling goes down. “It may take two weeks or 12 weeks until you can return to running,” says Mailer. “See a physiotherapist quickly for advice. If you have regained full movement and have no swelling or pain, can walk normally and are able to hop, then you should be able to safely try a jog.”
How to prevent the risk of ankle-related injuries
Stretching and strengthening the ankles is key to reducing your risks of injury. Try these exercises twice weekly.
- Stand close to a wall. Lift your toes up at the wall so they are pointing towards the ceiling with your feet flat on the ground.
- Stretch both calf muscles. Stand on a step and let one heel drop towards the floor, keeping the knee extended to stretch the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle. For the soleus (the muscle underneath the gastrocnemius), keep your heel flat on the floor and then bend the knee forward.
- Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Point your toes away from your body then towards each other, stretching the outside of the ankle. For the inside, flex your feet in the direction of your head and turn them outwards.
Strength and balance moves:
- Stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Progress by moving the other leg up and down in a running action.
- Raise up onto your toes then walk forward, backwards and sideways for five to 10 steps.
- Sit with your legs straight out, point one foot and tie a resistance band around it, then pull the foot inwards with resistance.
- Crunch your toes into a towel, pulling the towel towards you.