Whether you’re a serious athlete, an avid strength trainer, or just love being active, strong, healthy ankles help you stay active, on the go, and avoid injury. Strong, but stable ankles help you stand, walk, and run safely and more efficiently, while weak ankles can lead to instability and injury as you age.
If you’ve ever sprained your ankle—which is more common than sprained wrists or knees—you know how inconvenient such an injury can be, and how hard it is to get around for a while. A mild ankle sprain can take up to 2 weeks to heal, while a serious sprain can take several months.
One reason people develop ankle sprains is because they have weak ankles or ankles that are unstable. When the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support your ankles are weak, it contributes to poor balance and an increased risk of falling and sustaining other injuries. But what causes weak ankles? Let’s look at some reasons your ankles are weaker than they should be.
You’re Had an Ankle Sprain in the Past
One of the most common causes of ankle weakness is a previous ankle sprain. Ankle sprains are one of the most frequent injuries sustained by adults over age 65, and they’re also common in younger people who participate in sports and recreational activities. The more ankle sprains you sustain, the “weaker” your ankles become, and the more unstable and prone to injury they become.
The ligaments and tendons in your ankles support and stabilize your ankles. The ligaments that connect bone to bone are the strongest parts of your ankle, while the tendons connect muscles to bones. Your ligaments and tendons work together to provide stability as you walk or run. When they’re repeatedly injured, you’re at a higher risk of sprains, strains, or other problems with your feet.
To make matters worse, once you’ve sprained an ankle once, there’s a higher risk of another sprain. The reason? An ankle sprain stretches the ligaments and tendons so they’re weaker and offer less support. With each subsequent sprain, the ankle becomes even more unstable, and the risk of future sprains goes up.
While most people who sprain their ankles recover quickly, some will have chronic problems or even develop osteoarthritis. A few serious ankle injuries can also cause permanent damage. This is because the ligaments that support the ankle may partially tear because of trauma, which makes it more vulnerable to future sprains. Even though most sprains heal on their own, they can become chronic if you don’t treat them correctly and in a timely manner.
If sprains happen too close together (within weeks), weak ankles also increase the risk of other problems, such as chronic ankle instability or arthritis later in life, due to repeated injury affecting nearby joints.
Certain health issues can contribute to ankle weakness and ankle instability. Two of the most common are osteoarthritis and diabetes. Up to half of all diabetics have nerve damage that affects their ankles and feet and contributes to ankle weakness and instability. Plus, osteoarthritis, the degeneration of the joints involving the ankles and feet, also contributes to ankle weakness. Obesity can cause or worsen ankle weakness by placing excess stress on the ankle joints and their tendons and ligaments.
Age is a Factor Too
Older individuals are more likely to experience chronic ankle instability and weak ankles over time. The older we get, the more likely it is that an injury won’t heal correctly, since our bodies don’t heal as easily as they did when we were younger after an ankle injury.
Dealing with Weak Ankles
You can work to avoid weak ankles by taking care of injuries when they happen and by strengthening the muscles and connective tissue that support your ankles to reinforce and stabilize them. If you have weak ankles, avoid activities that place added stress on the joints in your legs and feet, such as jumping off a chair onto the floor. That’s too much impact to do safely as an adult.
Exercises to Strengthen Ankles
Certain exercises will strengthen the muscles that support your ankles and increase their strength and stability. Let’s look at a few of those:
Calf Raises on a Step
- Stand on the edge of a step or platform with your feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward and your heels hanging off the edge of the step.
- Lower yourself down until your heels are below the level of the step, then raise yourself back up until you feel stress in your calves.
- Repeat 10 times for 1 set; do 2 or 3 sets total.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back as if you were sitting in a chair until you feel your hamstrings stretch.
- Step forward with one foot and lower into a lunge so both knees are bent at 90 degrees and thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight and chest lifted throughout this exercise.
- Rise to standing position on the front leg while bringing the rear leg forward so it lands next to the front leg. Repeat on the other side, stepping out with that foot first when you rise back up from the lunge.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times; do 2 or 3 sets.
Other Ways to Strengthen Your Ankles
- Walk or hike on uneven surfaces
- Pedal a stationary bike using only the balls of your feet
- Trace the alphabet with your toes.
- Take up inline skating
- Pick up small items, like marbles, with your toes.
The Bottom Line
Don’t neglect the health of your ankles. Weak ankles are a set-up for injury, and they make it harder to perform at your best when you do other strength-training exercises, like squats. So, include ankle strengthening movements in your routine and show your ankles a little TLC.
- “Weak Ankles: Exercises, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.” 23 Jul. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/weak-ankles.
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