6 Ankle Strengthening Exercises to Prevent and Avoid Further Injury
Updated February 17, 2023.
Strength in the lower leg muscles is extremely important in maintaining biomechanical alignment of the foot and ankle complex during high-impact activities such as running or jumping. The muscles provide an active stabilization system for the ankle complex as weight is applied to the joint. Weakened muscles that fatigue quickly may be the reason why your ankle hurts. They can lead to ankle injuries, fractures, or ankle pain during daily activities. The ankle cannot cope with sudden stressors and is prone to developing pain in the long term.
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Benefits of Ankle Strengthening Exercises
The main benefit of ankle strengthening exercises is that there will be less pressure placed on the ankle joint when weight is applied. You can improve your ankle joint by doing exercises that protect the joint and limit the potential for osteoarthritis and ankle arthritis from developing. Leg strengthening is associated with higher leg bone density and improved balance.
Ankle Exercises and Stretches
Standing Heel Raise
Standing heel raises aim to strengthen the calf muscles, including the ankle stabilization muscles. These exercises also improve balance and the body’s ability to cope with the force of landing on the ground. More reps can help build muscle endurance. You can start with 10–15 repetitions and increase to 20–25 reps as you become more comfortable.
The towel stretch aims to lengthen the calf muscles and reduce the strain placed on the muscle attachments in the legs. All you need is a towel. Place it around the forefoot of one foot while your legs are outstretched in front of you. Pull back on the forefoot using the towel and hold for 15–30 seconds. You should feel the stretch at the back of the leg around the calf muscle.
Start by sitting with your legs out in front of you with a rolled towel under your leg, raising it slightly in the air. Draw out letters of the alphabet. This exercise helps maintain mobility in the ankle while maintaining muscle strength through that range of motion. Repeat on the other foot.
Toe curls are specific for strengthening the muscles of the plantar or underside of your feet. Sitting with the feet shoulder-width apart, curl your toes into the ground or a soft surface. This encourages the shortening of the plantar muscles around the arch. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Be sure to repeat on the other foot.
Single-Leg Standing Exercise
This exercise can be done while standing on a soft, flat surface. Balance on one leg for as long as possible. Be sure to focus on distributing the weight on the entire foot. This exercise aims to create a single standing balance, which can benefit you while walking or running. This exercise can also reduce your chances of developing any type of ankle sprain, injury, or sudden ankle pain.
Golf Ball Roll
Using a golf ball or massage ball of your choice is a great way to massage the fascia and muscles on the underside of the foot. By lengthening and massaging these structures, you can relieve any pain and inflammation you may be experiencing. The massage draws blood to the area, promoting healing and speeding up recovery time.
Risks of Exercising Injured or Weakened Ankles
For the most part, exercises for strengthening your ankles are safe. It is important not to exercise and stretch your ankle if you are experiencing any adverse symptoms of inflammation or pain. Refrain from doing ankle exercises in the acute stage after an injury, such as in the case of a sprained ankle where bruising is observed.
It is advised to apply ice to reduce inflammation and rest for a week or two before attempting to start ankle exercises. Exercises should limit the provocation of pain through slow and controlled movements. If pain arises, stop exercising and apply the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method to your ankle. Refrain from doing overly challenging exercises too soon after an injury, as this may cause your symptoms to arise again or expose you to the risk of getting injured again.
When to See a Medical Professional
If you cannot bear weight on the ankle for a couple of days after your injury, consult with a medical professional, as this could indicate a more serious injury in the area. You should seek advice from a medical professional should your ankle feel unstable when weight is placed onto the leg during exercise or if the ankle pain does not subside. Other forms of medical management can be considered to prevent complications from developing in the ankle.
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