Ankle injuries are some of the most common for athletes competing in running, soccer, or basketball, but can plague even casual hikers and joggers. To prevent ankle injuries that can send you limping to your nearest Scottsdale physical therapy center, there are a few things you should know.
First, it is important to understand how the ankle works. The ankle, or talocrural region, is the region where the foot and leg meet. It is composed of three joints (the talocrural joint, the subtalar joint, and the inferior tibiofibular joint) and three bones (the tibia, fibula, and the talus). The joint surface of all bones in the ankle are covered with articular cartilage and bound by the strong deltoid ligament and three lateral ligaments. The ankle distributes the weight of your body to the bones in the feet.
The most common injury to the ankle is a sprain or twist. This occurs when the ankle is rolled, twisted, or turned in an awkward way, causing the ligaments to stretch or tear.
To help minimize the chance of injury, try these 3 tips:
- Balance training: By improving your balance, you are honing your body’s proprioception. This is your body’s ability to control itself in all types of positions. Balance exercises can be as simple as alternating standing on one leg for as long as possible. To increase difficulty, try standing on one leg and leaning as far to each side as possible or balancing with your eyes closed. These exercises can be aided by the use of a bosu ball or wobble board.
- Ankle strengthening: Weak muscles around the ankle area make you much more likely to suffer a sprain. Resistance range-of-motion exercises with a thera-band are a great way to strengthen the muscles in the ankle. Place the band around the top of the foot and curl the toes at the end of the movement to work the internal muscles of the foot. Complete three sets of 20 in each direction. Another way to strengthen the muscles in the ankle is through calf raises. These should be completed both sitting and standing to strengthen the Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
- Stretching: Stretching the muscles in the legs is important before and after strenuous physical activity. Try some of these stretches:
- Gastrocnemius stretch – stand on a step with heels off the back of the step. Keep the knees straight and slowly lower the heels down below the level of the step until you can feel a stretch.
- Soleus stretch – stand with one leg in front of the other close to a wall. Place your hands on the wall and lean forward. Bend both knees as if trying to touch the front knee to the wall while keeping the back heel down.
- Shin stretch – cross left foot behind right, stand on the toes of your left foot, and bend the right leg to push your ankle towards the ground as if dragging your toes on the ground. Hold for 15-30 seconds and switch legs.
- Peroneal stretch – sitting in a chair, cross one leg over the other knee so that the ankle sits on top of the knee. Using your hands, stretch the foot towards you. Hold and switch sides.