Strategies for Strengthening Your Ankles

Strategies for Strengthening Your Ankles

Every day, 23,000 women, men, and kids in the United States need medical care for a sprained ankle. That figure, of course, doesn’t account for the hundreds or thousands more who never bother to seek treatment because it’s “just a sprain.”

If your ankles are weak because of past trauma, genetics, or aging, they may easily give way even as you do something as mundane as take your daily stroll. Weak, unstable ankles can lead to sprains and even to falls where you could seriously injure yourself.

Your ankles are an important part of keeping your entire body stable. Kerry E. Berg, DPM, and our team at Intermountain Foot & Ankle Associates in Colorado Springs, Colorado, want your ankles to stay strong to prevent a first sprain, the next sprain, or chronic instability. 

We’ve compiled a few suggestions to help keep your ankles strong and stable. Of course, if you’re in pain or think you have a sprain, see us right away. A sprain stretches your ligaments. Without treatment and therapy, a poorly healed sprain affects your balance and safety.

Strengthen ligaments in multiple directions

The ligaments that stabilize your ankles must move in multiple directions and be equally strong in all of them. Your ankle joint is highly mobile, so your ligaments need strength and flexibility to adjust to all of the pressures you put on them.

Loop a resistance band around the front of your foot and attach the other loop to a heavy or stable object, such as a stable table leg. Flex the foot forward, sideways, and backward. Repeat 15 times. Work up to three sets per day.

For prevention, do this exercise 3-4 times a week. If you’ve already sprained your ankle, however, be sure to work with a physical therapist (PT) to avoid inadvertently injuring yourself or adding pressure too soon.

Retrain your nerves

The nerves in your ankle joint sense changes in your balance, gait, and the surface you walk on and immediately help your ligaments and tendons adjust and coordinate. Unfortunately, when you sprain an ankle or have unstable ankles to begin with, your nerves may not be healthy enough to keep your ankle steady. 

Damaged nerves, in fact, are one consequence of a sprain that makes you more susceptible to future sprains. Instead of finely adjusting to each step and keeping your balance, your damaged nerves cause your ankle to roll or wobble.

To retrain the nerves in your ankle, try one-legged balances. While standing on one leg, slowly move your arms outward, upward, and to the sides. Of course, if you’re not steady enough to do this exercise, either work with a PT or stabilize yourself against a wall until you’re stronger.

Once you’ve worked up to 20 repetitions per leg, challenge yourself by balancing on less stable surfaces, such as a pillow. Or, try it with your eyes closed. Again, be sure you’re checked with your podiatrist or PT to ensure that you’re strong enough to do these exercises.

Another way to increase mobility and strength is to draw the alphabet with your toes. Lie on your back with a flexed foot in the air. Using your toes, trace all of the letters in the air. Do a complete alphabet per leg per day

Build up your muscles

Strong muscles in your legs help keep your ankles stable. Your calves, especially, are important for preventing ankle rolls and twists. Do lunges with the front foot on an unstable surface, such as a pillow or Bosu ball.

Standing calf raises are excellent for strength, too. Stand in front of a wall with your feet hip-width apart. Lift yourself up on your flat toes (not on point, like a ballerina!). Hold for as long as you can. Lower your heels. Repeat 10 times, once per day.

Work with a podiatrist

Dr. Berg examines your ankle, takes imaging studies to identify possible contributors to your weak ankles, such as hairline fractures, strains, or sprains. She also examines your gait and other movements you make regularly to check for efficiency. She may suggest modifications in the way you walk, run, or perform other movements.

Based on the results of your exam, she designs a treatment program to retrain and strengthen your ankles and their supportive muscles and ligaments. And, of course, if you’re currently in pain she recommends medications such as anti-inflammatories or steroids. She may also prescribe the use of a brace to keep your ankle stable until it’s strong enough on its own.

If one or more of your ankles is weak, unstable, or sprained, get the help you need to get back on your feet by contacting our office in Colorado Springs, Colorado today. Reach our knowledgeable team by phone or our convenient online form.

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