Most people don’t consider exercising their ankles until they have a sprain, but healthy feet and ankles are vital to overall fitness and health. Ankle sprains and strains account for 45 percent of athletic injuries, and up to half of those who sprain their ankles will suffer a recurrent injury. Your body, like every other structure, needs a sturdy base; your feet and ankles are that foundation. A weak, unstable ankle can lead to pain, not only in the ankle, but also with the joints and muscles all the way up your body — in your knees, hips, back and even your neck. For your ankles to function correctly, you must maintain flexibility, strength and good balance; to that end, consider this your Ankle Exercises 101 course.
As with all exercise, check with your doctor first for a hamstring strain, and then start slowly and increase duration or difficulty as appropriate. Trying to do too much, too soon, may do more harm than good. Persistence is the key to improvement.
Flexibility, also known as range of motion, is necessary to walk properly. For normal ambulation, the foot must bend upward, or dorsiflex, 15 degrees; if that amount of motion is not available, your body will compensate at adjacent joints, which can result in pain and joint destruction. Plantar fasciitis, also referred to as heel pain or heel spur pain, is one common condition that can occur if there is a limitation in the normal motion of the ankle. Below are several exercises geared toward increasing ankle flexibility.
Draw the Alphabet
This exercise can be done while sitting, standing or lying down. Performing the exercise while standing also enhances balance but, to be safe, you should stand near a chair, counter or doorway to steady yourself, if necessary.
Raise one foot off the ground and, using only your foot (do not move your leg), draw the letters of the alphabet; repeat using your other foot. For variety, try drawing circles or signing your name. For those with a desk job, this is a great ankle rehab exercises to do several times throughout the day.
Stand several feet away from the wall with your hands flat on the wall at about shoulder height, your body and legs in a line, and your heels flat on the floor. Knees should be straight but not locked. Lean forward; you will begin to feel a stretch in your arch and your heel cord. Try to keep your heels on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax and straighten up; repeat 20 times.
Alternatively, you can stretch one leg at a time. Place one foot closer to the wall with the knee slightly bent. Stretch as above, and then switch feet and repeat. These exercises will primarily stretch your gastrocnemius muscle. To stretch your other calf muscle, the soleus, position one foot closer to the wall with your knee bent. Extend your other leg out behind you with the foot and heel flat on the floor and the knee bent. Gradually lean forward, bringing the knee on your rear leg closer to the floor until you feel the stretch in your calf strain mistakes. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax and straighten up. Do one or two sets of 10 reps.
With your hands resting on a tabletop or counter, slowly squat down. Bend your knees, but keep your heels on the ground. Relax into the squat until your heels start to lift. Hold that position for 10 seconds, and then straighten up. Do one or two sets of 10 reps.
With just the balls of your feet on the tread, stand on the bottom step of a staircase. Hold on to the railings. (Close your eyes if you like.) Slowly let your heels sink down as low as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, and then slowly raise back up. Do one or two sets of 10 reps.
Strengthening exercises are essential to prevent or rehabilitate high school sports injury; flexibility and balance without strength are insufficient. Strengthening is accomplished by working against resistance. This resistance can come from external equipment or employ the body itself. These exercises will help you strengthen the muscles that act on the ankle.
Resistance Band Workout for Ankle Exercises
For this series of exercises, you will need therapy bands (those long, stretchy, color-coded bands physical therapists use), or if you don’t have one of those, you can substitute a stretchy pair of nylons or tights.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out and a rolled-up towel under your Achilles tendon to raise your foot slightly off the ground. Loop the band around the ball of your foot and hold on to the other ends; slowly stretch your foot out away from you, and then slowly bring it back toward you; do 10-20 reps.
For the next three positions, have a friend hold the ends of the resistance bands or tie them around a heavy piece of furniture. Place the band across the top of your foot. Bend your forefoot toward you, and then slowly move it back. Next, have your partner sit to one side and run the band over the outside or lateral portion of the foot on the opposite side. Slowly press outward with your forefoot while he or she resists your efforts. Only move your foot; do not move or rotate your hip or leg.
Finally, run the band around the inside of your foot and press in against resistance. Do 10-20 reps of each of these on both feet. The band should provide moderate resistance, and you should work hard enough to feel some fatigue. As your strength improves, increase the number of reps or change to a stiffer band.
Rock and Roll
Start with your feet together. If you feel off-balance, spread your feet apart a little. Raise up onto your toes, and then roll back down and onto your heels with your toes off the ground. Continue to roll back and forth from heel to toe 10-20 times.
Next, spread your feet apart. Roll to the outsides of your feet, and then roll back down into your arches. Continue rolling in and out 10-20 times.
Walk Like a Comedian
Walk across the floor and back on your tiptoes. Do it again but this time on your heels, and then roll your feet to the outside, also called supination, and walk back and forth. Roll down into your arches, which is called pronation, and walk again.
Balance is critical for quality, and even quantity, of life. A sprain can damage sensory nerves in the ankle that are responsible for telling the brain where the foot and ankle are in space. This is called proprioception, and it is a vital component of balance. Aging can also cause a loss of proprioception and, unfortunately, increase the risk of falling.
One quick way to check your balance is to stand on one foot. If you can maintain your balance for 30 seconds, try doing it with your eyes closed. If you can do that, your balance is pretty good; if not, you can improve it with practice.
When doing any of these balance exercises, it is important to protect yourself from falls. You can do this by standing next to and/or holding onto a counter, table, chair or walker, or by using a cane or standing in a doorway. Sometimes it only takes a fingertip touch to stabilize you; sometimes it takes more.Practice these until you can do them without leaning on anything to stabilize you.
There are many ways to incorporate balance-enhancing activities into your everyday life. Here are a few:
- Stand on one foot while you wash dishes or brush your teeth.
- Pick things up with your feet.
- Put your socks and shoes on while standing up.
Stand on one foot, as you did in the balance test. Try to hold that position for 30 seconds, three times, twice a day. Hold on to something if necessary. Work toward the goal of standing for 30 seconds without holding onto anything and, preferably, with your eyes closed.
Foam Pad Challenge
It is surprising how difficult it can be to keep your balance while standing on a two-inch thick foam pad, which is precisely why you should try to. Start off with your feet close together, and then slow-march in place. You can up the difficulty of the flamingo exercise by doing it while standing on the foam pad, but, as always, take appropriate precautions. Progress to shallow squats. If you are having difficulty with any of the balance exercises, use a wider stance; it will increase your stability. As you improve, move your feet closer together.
The DUI field sobriety test, at least as portrayed on TV, can double as a balance exercise. Walk in a straight line placing heel to toe, heel to toe. It is not easy, even for the sober.
With these basic exercises for peroneal tendinitis, you can improve ankle function and balance to prevent or rehab injuries. Young or old, it behooves you to keep your foundation strong. Once you are familiar with these exercises, it is easy to slip them into your regular routine. When you climb the stairs, for example, add in one or two stair stretches or do a little rock and roll while you’re waiting in line or standing around. Integrating exercise into your life, whether as a scheduled activity or surreptitiously, will enhance your well-being. Start today.