Easy Ways to Build Your Ankle Strength
Trust us on this one: strong ankles are important. Really important. Whatever your age, your lifestyle and activity level, or your injury history may be, ankle strength should not be ignored. Everyone depends on these critical joints to help them get about their day safely and without pain. When you’re focused on building strong ankles, however, the benefits can include:
- Preventing injuries from sports, falls, or accidents—especially if you’ve suffered previous ankle injuries
- Faster recovery from any injuries you do sustain
- Improved balance so you can stay mobile and independent at any age
- Improved athletic performance
Balance WorkBalance exercises are great for strengthening ankles, not to mention improving your proprioception skills. (That means your ability to determine your own position in space.) And you can do them anywhere, even in line at the bank. (You might get some funny looks though.) Here’s an easy one. Simply raise one foot slightly above the ground and hold your position. Then … wait for it … close your eyes. The funny thing is, closing your eyes makes it a lot more difficult. Once you can’t depend on your eyes for visual information about your surroundings, your proprioception is affected, and you might start to feel wobbly! Your ankle muscles have to work a lot harder to keep you balanced, which helps strengthen them. At first you might want to stand near something solid you can grab if you’re afraid you’re about to tumble. But the goal should be thirty seconds per foot, without needing to touch your foot to the ground or your other leg, or your hands to yourself or any object.
Inversion and EversionThose are just big, fancy words for “side to side.” (Or, technically, inversion moves the soles toward the center/mainline of your body, while eversion moves them outward.) You can do some simple inversion and eversion work right from the couch. While you’re sitting and enjoying your favorite TV show, do some ankle circles—or simply turn your feet in and out slowly, holding the stretch for several seconds before releasing. When you’re ready for a little more resistance, it’s time for some isometric exercises. (That’s a fancy word for “in a static position.”) An easy way to do this is to hold your foot in an inverted or everted position against the side of a wall.
Plantar Flexion and DorsiflexionMore big words. But again, simple meanings. Plantar flexion points your toes downward, while dorsiflexion tilts the front of your foot upward, toward your shins. Again, the exercise can be quite simple and don’t require any special equipment. One of the best plantar flexion exercises, in fact, is simply rising up on your tiptoes until you feel a good stretch in your calves, and then slowly lowering yourself. For dorsiflexion, again, you could be in front of the TV or reading a book. Start with your feet flat on the floor, then raise your toes as high as you can while keeping your heels on the ground.
YogaWhat could be more California than yoga? This ancient discipline features lot of poses that are great for improving strength and flexibility in the ankles. More bonuses: there are no shortages of great yoga studios in and around Ladera Ranch, you get to enjoy exercising with others, and you get instant feedback from an instructor if you need it.
Ready to Take It to the Next Level?The title of this blog, you’ll note, includes the word “easy.” That’s why we’ve chosen to focus on stretches and exercises that are really simple, require no special equipment, and can be easily incorporated into almost anyone’s current lifestyle. However, if you’re ready to take it to the next level (and you are in safe physical condition to do so), you may want to try adding resistance or pursuing more aggressive exercise. For example, you might try holding free weights during your heel raises, or using a resistance band to increase the difficulty of your plantar flexion and dorsiflexion exercises.
What Happens When Exercise Isn’t Enough?Exercise and physical therapy is going to be a core part of just about any treatment meant to strengthen ankles. But we won’t lie to you. Sometimes you may need a little extra help. For example, ankles that have been severely weakened and destabilized from repeated sprains may not return to 100% health with physical therapy alone. The ligaments and tendons holding the joint together have simply been stretched too far, too often. When you come in for a visit, we’ll consider all options. Physical therapy is always the first choice, but if necessary we may also recommend:
- External supports. You might need at least temporary use of an ankle brace or balance brace to prevent the ankle from turning and tumbling during activity.
- Surgical repair. If the ligaments have been severely weakened, we may need to tighten, repair, or reconstruct them using transplanted ligament tissue from other areas of the body.