If you have ever sprained your ankle, and most of us have at least once, then you know how much of a pain in the rear recovery can be. Weeks of ‘taking it easy’ is enough to drive any athlete up the wall even if you’re not officially an athlete. Everyone from recreational runners to people who are simply always up and active at work rely on their ability to move around, respond quickly to situations, and enjoy the sensation of moving like a fast and well-oiled machine.
Unfortunately, when your ankle turns or gives way, that step could be the last smooth movement you experience for a while. After the ankle turns, you can’t un-sprain it and are stuck hobbling carefully around for weeks if not months afterward before you’re fully up to your old physical capabilities again.
However, while you might not be able to undo a sprain once it’s occurred, you can absolutely go through a number or preparation steps to significantly lower the chances of your ankle spraining in the future.
Why Ankles Sprain
Ankles are very complicated and articulate joints. To give us the abilities of balance and dynamic responsive movement, ankles have to be able to push you off from and to almost any direction and in most cases everything is fine. The problem occurs when your ankle is not prepared for a movement you make or what you’ve tried to do falls just outside of the ankle’s comfortable and possible range of motion. When this happens because of a turn while the heel is down or a twist while you’re up on your toes, one or more of the ligaments inside the ankle will tear, hurt, and well. This is what we call a sprain and nobody wants one. That said, understanding the causes of ankle sprain can also help you fight them back.
Causes of Ankle Sprain
- Muscle Weakness
- Lack of Balance
- Lack of Coordination
These causes of ankle sprain aren’t mysterious or difficult to understand. In fact, looking at it spelled out so simply, most of us can probably think of more than a few preventative solutions that address one or more of the three major points. To help you get started with your no-ankle-sprains solution to warmups and workouts, we’ve put together ten tips that should strengthen your ankle, improve your balance, and enhance your foot coordination while in motion.
1) Always Warm Up, Even Your Ankles
Among the leading causes of ankle sprain is simply trying to get started too quickly or too hard on a cold ankle. One thing it’s very important to note is that ankles and wrists may be positionally similar, but ankles aren’t actually all that similar to wrists. Your wrists have no muscles in them and very little ligament and support tissue other than veins and tiny bones, which is why gripping and working with tools or equipment starts to ache in your forearms. Your ankles, on the other hand, is incredibly muscular in comparison which means that you need to warm your ankles up just as much as any other muscle before a workout. This is even more important if you’re going running or your workout will involve any running or jumping.
2) Proprioception – Be Aware Of Your Ankles
Proprioception is a long and fancy word pronounced Pro-Prio-Ception and it means being aware of where your body is in space. It is through this sense and understanding that you know where your hand is when you reach out in pitch darkness or can keep your feet from stumbling over an obstacle you saw a moment ago without looking down. Strong proprioception allows you to control your body perfectly limited only by your understanding of the environment while poor proprioception is what causes people to stub their toes and run into things that they didn’t realize were close enough to their bodies to be a problem.
When it comes to ankle sprains, proprioception is your best friend. This is what allows you to know when you’re running and working out with good form because you can feel your ankle properly aligned and you know that your foot is going to land in a powerful support configuration rather than a weak one likely to result in loss of support and twisting. Proprioception is mostly improved by practicing mindfulness and intentional muscle control during your regular exercises.
3) Practice Your Balance
The next issue to consider is your sense of balance. Even strong proprioception can’t help you if you can’t catch your balance once it slips or if you have a hard time keeping your balance in that crucial moment where all your weight is on only one foot. Fortunately, balance is one of those things that’s easy to train all the time and you can do it at home or work as easily as in the gym.
Start doing distracting mental or minor physical tasks like brushing your teeth or watching movies while standing on one foot with the other foot tucked up or behind. Once you can stand confidently for a minute or two on each foot without wobbling, start adding challenges like standing on a pillow or lifting up onto your toes and back down while balancing. You may eventually be able to do squats comfortably on one foot.
4) Toe-Write the Alphabet
Remember those muscles in your ankle? They’re a big part of what you’re working out when you balance on one foot or do squats but going up and down and holding you upright aren’t all that ankles do. When you’re out running, playing active sports, or working energetically, your ankle handles a lot of fancy footwork we don’t even think about. Stopping, pivoting, changing directions quickly, and going backward are only a few things you ask your ankles to take care of for you on a regular basis.
Take care of your ankles and help them strengthen those maneuvering muscles exercising them with a little game we like to call toe-writing. Sit in a chair and hold your foot up off the ground. Then, without moving the larger muscles of your leg, write the entire alphabet with your toes. If you get bored of that, start writing stories. This is a surprisingly tough workout and very good for your ankle strength and stability.
5) Don’t Wear Shoes Too Tight or Too Loose
Bad footwear is among the top conditional causes of a sprained ankle because it leads you to do unwise things with your feet or denies you the stability your feet need to keep you and your ankles safe. Shoes that are too tight are going to make you run differently. Even if it’s unconscious, your feet will try to escape the areas that pinch or restrict blood flow. Shoes that are too loose, on the other hand, are a well-known safety hazard because while they might be gripping the ground, your feet will be sliding around inside the shoes. And sliding is always a recipe for ankle disasters.
6) Brace for Action
There are certain kinds of activities that even a practiced and strengthened ankle may have trouble dealing with 100% of the time. Field games involving chasing a ball with other players, for instance, often involve a lot of pivoting on a dime, stopping short, and making hairpin turns which are all hard on the ankles. The best way to prepare for this situation is to wear a soft supportive pair of ankle braces that will feel a lot like tightly laced high-top shoes without chafing where canvas touches calf.
7) Work Your Way Up to Intense Demand
If you have recently been recovering from an injury or you’re just now getting into working out or back into working out, chances are your ankles are not at the top of their possible athletic condition. While you don’t have to break for ankle training, you do want to ease yourself into a more intense workout. Start with slow careful runs and pacing yourself at the gym with workout routines you can handle. Going too hard at first can do a lot of harm but specifically for your ankles, you could fail to keep your balance and turn the ankle or even over-extend it with a lunge that can tear ligaments as easily as any twist.
8) Lift Up On Your Toes
The single most precarious position and a well-known cause of ankle sprains is that moment in a run when you are up on your toes with the heel off the ground, most likely pushing off for your next step. In this position, your ankle is particularly susceptible to being thrown off-balance sending you crashing to the ground or twisting underneath the pressure which is a different kind of problem. Either can result in a truly nasty sprain.
To prepare your ankle for this, practice walking around on your toes and do at least some of your balance building exercises up on tip-toes.
9) Rubber Band and Table Leg
Another great way to exercise your ankle more intensely than you can using just the not-so-considerable weight of your own foot is with a large soft rubber band or workout band. These elastic ribbons can be tied in a loop around a sturdy table leg or stair banister so that you can practice pulling and twisting your ankle from various ankles while the foot is looped through and pulling against the band.
10) Hop on One Foot
Finally, if you want to combine strength, balance, proprioception, and have a little fun all at the same time, start hopping around on one foot. When you’re just moving around the house and don’t mind looking silly, kick one leg back and grab the ankle for balance and hop around on the other leg until it gets tired, then switch legs. The more aware and intentional your ankle movements are during this exercise, the better.
For more tips and tricks on treating and preventing sprained ankles and other sports injuries, contact us today!