Your body relies on your ankles for many key functions including stability, shock absorption and support. Ankles are crucial for balance and injuries to the joint are extremely common. Ankle injuries, specifically sprains, are the most frequent musculoskeletal injuries, with an estimated two million occurring each year in the United States. If untreated, a sprain could result in long-term pain and immobility. In fact, 70% of those two million injuries lead to a residual physical disability due to lack of treatment and/or care of injuries. Therefore, monitoring your ankle strength and treating the joint when needed is critical.
In addition to an injury, deterioration in ankle stability and function can also be caused by age or an underlying disorder. These factors can weaken the ankle’s flexibility, leading to further injury or imbalance.
How do you strengthen your ankle?
There are many stretches and exercises you can add to your daily routine to increase the mobility and health of your ankles:
1.Calf stretch: Standing in front of a wall, keep one leg straight, placing the heel firmly on the ground. Position the other leg in front with a bent knee. Gently shift your hips forward toward the wall, feeling the stretch in your calf. Stop when you feel a strong but pain-free pull. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then relax. Perform this stretch in a slow, controlled manner.
2.Single leg balance: Balance on one foot and raise the other. Start off by holding for 10-seconds on each side. Begin by keeping the big toe of the raised leg on the ground for stability and gradually lift the entire foot off the ground. Have a stable support nearby like a countertop or chair to hold on to if needed.
3.Heel to toe: Walk in a straight-line placing one foot directly in front of the other. When stepping down, place your foot down with your heel touching the floor first and your toes last.
“Heel to toe exercises strengthen some of the muscle around the ankle that help with walking and can be done while sitting or standing,” says physical therapist Melissa Hafner, MS, PT. “Complete this activity slowly to ensure that you feel the stretch.”
Ankles provide the body with stability and balance. Weak ankles from injury, age or illness can increase the likelihood of a fall or additional injuries. It is not only important to follow up with your doctor regarding your ankle strength but also to incorporate these quick and easy stretches into your daily routine to ensure your ankle balance.