Have you ever sprained or twisted your ankle, only to find it getting hurt again and again?
You aren’t alone. Ankle sprains are among the most common types of recurrent injuries. Up to 40% of ankle injuries go on to develop chronic symptoms, including pain, swelling, instability and even injury recurrence. Any active person – runner, basketball or soccer player, for instance – can experience ankle injuries which can significantly impact performance and overall mobility.
So, why are ankle injuries so common and what are some effective techniques to strengthen and improve stability in your ankles to reduce the risk of future injuries?
Understanding Ankle Injuries
Your foot is the first part of your body to hit the ground, and the ankle joint acts as shock absorption during your everyday activity. However, when the ankle is weak, it creates problems up the chain of your body leading to knee, hip and low back problems.
When not properly trained, ankle-related injuries can occur. Most commonly, ankle sprains. While anyone is susceptible to strains, females, children and athletes are especially predisposed to this injury.
When patients visit one of our New York City physical therapy clinics to treat an ankle issue, we help them identify the cause, treat the injury and then prevent the injury from reoccurring in the future through rehabilitation.
Common Reasons for Experiencing Ankle Pain:
- Anatomical Vulnerability: The ankle joint is particularly vulnerable to injury due to its unique anatomy. It consists of the tibia, fibula and talus bones, held together by several ligaments. The lateral ligaments on the outside of the ankle are especially prone to injury. When the ankle rolls inward (inversion) or outward (eversion) forcefully or beyond its normal range of motion, it can result in sprains, strains or even fractures.
- High-Impact Activities: Athletes and active individuals often engage in high-impact activities that place increased stress on the ankle joint. Jumping, cutting, sudden changes in direction and landing from jumps can all put significant strain on the ankle, making it more susceptible to injuries. Court sports like basketball, tennis and football are the most common culprits of ankle injury. This is due to the fact that the ankle joint and its surrounding ligaments are highly vulnerable during activities involving jumping and quick lateral movements.
- Lack of Warm-up and Conditioning: Insufficient warm-up routines, poor conditioning and inadequate strength and flexibility training can contribute to ankle injuries. Without proper preparation, the muscles and ligaments around the ankle may be less able to handle sudden movements or absorb the forces generated during physical activities.
- Falls or Other Environmental Factors: Uneven or unstable surfaces, such as playing fields or outdoor terrains, increase the risk of ankle injuries. Tripping on a pothole, stepping on an irregular surface or landing awkwardly during sports activities can all lead to ankle sprains.
- Previous Ankle Injuries: Once an individual has experienced an ankle injury, they may be more susceptible to recurring injuries. Ankle sprains, if not adequately rehabilitated, can weaken the ankle's stability and predispose it to future injuries.
Ankle Exercises for Improved Mobility and Injury Prevention
When you typically think of conditioning, your mind might immediately go to strength building exercises. However, strength alone isn’t always enough to prevent ankle injuries. Ankles also need to be treated with stabilization and balancing exercises.
Having strong and stabilized ankles will help you perform everyday activities with more ease, improve your agility for sports and prevent fall-related injuries.
Easy Techniques for Ankle Strength and Stability
While acute ankle sprains require attention to swelling and tissue damage, the key to preventing future ankle injuries lies in conditioning exercises. To address ankle strength and stability, it's essential to incorporate exercises like these into your rehabilitation routine.
Check out these ankle exercises that can help:
Dynamic Balance Exercise with Bosu Ball
- Using the Bosu ball for an unstable surface, try stepping up and practicing your balance on foot at a time.
- This will help the ankle muscles engage more effectively.
Standing Toe Extensions
- Practice lifting your toes off the ground while standing. If the big toe can't go up because of either strength or range of motion, it creates problems up the chain into the knee.
- Creating separation between the big toe and the 2nd to 5th toes is important for foot mobility and stability.
- Practice lifting your little toes off the ground while standing. If the little toes can't extend, it creates imbalance. A lot of ankle sprains happen because the pinkie toe is weak and latches onto the 4th toe and creates weakness throughout the outside foot and ankle.
Banded Ankle Exercises
- Practicing eversion and inversion with the band will help train the muscles around the foot and ankle. If this area is weak, it could lead to sprains.
- Banded dorsiflexion will also prevent sprains and knee pain. This is working the top of the foot. It is very important to have these muscles strong to prevent foot dragging and foot slapping on the ground when walking.
By practicing these exercises regularly, you can enhance ankle stability, develop better balance and improve overall movement patterns.
Take the First Step Towards Healthy Ankles at Park North PT
Ankle injuries can be a recurring issue for athletes and active older adults, but with the right approach, you can reduce the risk and improve ankle strength and stability. Remember, focusing on balance training and stabilization exercises is key to long-term ankle injury prevention. Start incorporating these techniques into your routine and enjoy a more stable and confident movement experience.
If you're struggling with an ankle injury or feel like you have weak ankles that have recurring issues, don't let it hold you back. Book an appointment with Park North Physical Therapy, where our team of experts will help you strengthen your ankles and regain confidence in your physical activities. Take the first step toward healthier, more stable ankles today.