We don’t typically consider our ankles until something goes wrong and an injury occurs. And that incidence is common, with more than one million people visiting an emergency room each year due to ankle injuries, and 25,000 ankle sprains occurring annually.
Ankle injuries are defined by the tissue affected. Fractures are breaks in one or more of the bones in the ankle, and a sprain occurs when the ligaments are torn or ruptured. Ligaments are connective tissues that keep the bones in place during movement. A strain refers to damage in the muscles and tendons from overuse, trauma, inflammation or tears. Tendons attach muscles to the bones. The most common ankle injuries are sprains and fractures.
One-half of ankle sprains occur during athletic activities, but you can injure your ankles landing awkwardly after a jump, tripping or falling, rolling or twisting the ankle, walking or running on uneven surfaces or from a sudden impact such as a car crash. Symptoms include severe pain; swelling; bruising; tenderness; and inability to bear weight on the joint.
First aid for an ankle injury is R.I.C.E. – rest, ice, compression and elevation, along with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen if necessary; followed by an evaluation by a doctor. Treatment for sprains varies according to severity but can include R.I.C.E., immobilization with a splint or boot, physical therapy and potentially surgery. Fractures can be surgically or with immobilization with a cast or brace, along with physical therapy.
To help prevent ankle injuries, which can sideline you for weeks to months, ensure that your ankles are strong, wear good shoes and use proper form during exercise and sports. Here are some effective exercises to strengthen ankles:
- Balance – Stand on one foot on the floor a folded towel for 30 seconds, trying not to hold onto anything. Do three times on one leg; then switch. To make this harder, try standing on a folded towel and close the eyes. Or stand on a BOSU Balance Trainer (both feet at first), a wobble disk or board or a low balance beam.
- Inchworm – Sitting on the floor with a towel stretched in front of you, grab the towel with one foot and use the toes to pull it toward you, like an accordion. Repeat with the same foot and then switch.
- Ankle circles/Plantar and dorsiflexion – Start seated in a chair with the right leg extended, and circle the right foot clockwise 10 to 20 times; rest for a few seconds, and repeat counterclockwise 10-20 times. Alternate legs, and aim for three sets on each leg. Options include adding plantar and dorsiflexion by pushing the toes down and pulling them back up, using a resistance band for more challenge. Then move the ankles right and left like windshield wipers.
- Calf raises – Begin seated, with knees bent and feet on the floor, and lift and lower heels slowly. Progress to standing, rising to the balls of the feet and then lowering the heels. Do 10-20 reps and repeat one-two sets.
- Write the alphabet – While in a chair, extend the right leg and use the big toe to write the letters of the alphabet in the air, in capital letters. Then try lower case, and switch feet and do the same with the left.
- Lateral hops – Stand on your right foot and hop over and back an imaginary line 20 times. Repeat on left; and repeat entire set 1-2 times.
- Heel walks – Standing, lift the toes so you are on your heels, and walk forward on heels 10-20 steps; then walk backward. Repeat set.
Keep those ankles strong. Stay Fueled!