If you do any type of exercise, you know how important it is to nurture your body and keep your body parts healthy. An injury can leave you out of commission for weeks to even months. You should also be aware that ankle injuries are common among athletes, and they can be quite painful and slow to heal. Even after healing, you could still experience intermittent discomfort when you work out.
The most frequent ankle injury is a sprained ankle, which occurs when the ligaments (the tissue that connects bone to bone) are overstretched or torn. A sprain can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of injury to the ligament. Sprains can be further classified as grade 1 (mild), grade 2 (moderate), and grade 3 (severe).
A grade one sprain is defined as overstretching the ligaments with possible mild tearing. Grade two involves a partial ligament tear while grade three is a complete tear of a ligament that supports the ankle.
Ankle sprains are usually caused by an unexpected change in direction or sudden stop. This often occurs during sports such as basketball or football, but it can also happen during everyday activities like walking downstairs or stepping off a curb.
Your training life will be better if you can avoid an ankle sprain or other ankle injury. Let’s look at some ways to lower your risk of an ankle injury when you train.
Warm Up Before Exercising
Are you warming up for at least 5 minutes before getting to the meat of your workout? A proper warm-up will increase blood flow to the muscles and joints, helping them loosen up and prepare for activity. It’s important that you do some type of warm-up every time you exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends warming up with at least 5 minutes of low intensity cardiovascular exercise (e.g., walking briskly). If you’ll be running or jumping later, try jogging lightly for several minutes beforehand to get your heart rate up and boost blood flow to your muscles. This will also prepare your muscles for more intense activity.
Wear Shoes that Support Your Ankles
Wear the right shoe for the activity you’re doing. Exercising in shoes with good ankle support can help prevent ankle injuries by stabilizing your feet during physical activity. There isn’t a one size fits all solution since people have varying anatomy in their ankles and feet. Some people have high arches while others have flat feet, and each foot shape may benefit from different shoes.
Gaits differ too. Some people overpronate or over supinate when they walk or run. If that’s the case, an in-depth foot and gait analysis by a professional is useful. It can help you identify gait irregularities and determine what type of foot support is best. That’s why it’s a smart idea to get a foot and ankle analysis by a sports medicine doctor or podiatrist to ensure you’re wearing the best shoes to maximize ankle support.
Practice proprioception exercises
Proprioception exercises are designed to improve your body’s ability to sense its position in space. and can lower your risk of ankle injuries. These exercises help you better understand where your body is in relation to the ground, which can keep you from falling when walking or running. To get started with these exercises, find an empty room with enough space to move around freely without bumping into anything.
Here are some simple proprioception exercises you can try:
- Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides. Lift one foot off the ground and bring it forward about an inch. Be sure to keep the other foot on the ground so that you don’t lose your balance. Return foot to the floor an now lift the other foot off the ground and repeat this movement five times in a row for each leg.
- Stand on one foot with the other foot raised off the floor for as long as possible – try not to wobble or sway too much. After a brief rest repeat with the other leg.
Doing proprioception exercises can help you improve your balance, coordination, and control of your muscles, so you’re less likely to fall or injure yourself.
Strengthen Your Ankles
The ankle is a complex joint, made up of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The ankle is designed to flex (bend) and extend (straighten) as well as rotate. Strength training can help protect your ankles by strengthening the muscles around your joints.
The muscles that support the ankle are commonly referred to as the ankle complex. The main muscles that support the ankle include the tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, peroneus tertius, peroneus brevis, peroneus longus, and the flexor digitorum longus. These muscles stabilize and move your ankle in various directions.
Strengthening your ankles with strength training is one of the best ways to lower your risk of ankle injury and pain. The stronger the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support your ankles are, the more stable the joint will be.
One of the best exercises for strengthening your ankles is also the simplest – ankle circles.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides.
- Keeping your knees straight, lift one foot up off the floor and rotate it in a small circle.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Another way to boost ankle strength is to trace the alphabet with your toes. To do this, extend one leg straight in front of you and use your large toe to draw each letter in the alphabet. Switch legs and repeat.
Condition Your Ankles
Make sure your ankles are ready for more intense activity. Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts and don’t try to do too much too quickly. This will give your muscles, tendons, and ligaments a chance to slowly adapt to the stress you’re placing on them.
Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid an unexpected ankle sprain or other injury.
“Ankle Anatomy – eOrthopod.com.” https://eorthopod.com/ankle-anatomy/.
“Varying Degrees of Ankle Sprains | Rush System.” https://www.rush.edu/news/varying-degrees-ankle-sprains.
Fradkin AJ, Gabbe BJ, Cameron PA. Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomised controlled trials? J Sci Med Sport. 2006 Jun;9(3):214-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2006.03.026. Epub 2006 May 6. PMID: 16679062.