The ankle is the part of the body that is normally completed neglected when it comes to exercise. Although there are no major muscle groups associated with the ankle, the ligaments and tendons that hold ankle in place need to be kept strong and flexible. The foot and the ankle form the foundation on which the entire body is held up. Therefore it is vital that the muscles, ligaments and tendons within the ankle be kept strong to avoid injury.
A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries in daily life. Because we use our feet to propel motion a wrong step, a trip or a fall can cause injury to the musculature of the ankle, especially if they are weak. Therefore daily strengthening of the ankle is not only needed, it’s necessary. Strong ankles improve speed, agility, balance and protect the legs, knees and hips.
The ankle has 4 main motions with which it can move. Plantar flexion is when you point your toes; dorsiflexion is when you lift your toes back towards the shin, inversion when you turn your ankle in and eversion when you turn your ankle out. By strengthening the musculature that propels these four actions you can maintain strong ankles that will support the rest of your body throughout your life. It is important to strengthen the ankle symmetrically, because even one weakened aspect can lead to an injury. After an ankle injury that muscle, ligament or tendon is more likely to become re-injured again.
Because the ankles support and hold up the entire body, balance and stability exercises are perfect for building strength within the ankle. Standing on one leg, on an unstable surface or using a balance board or beam are all ways to strengthen the ankle through proprioception. Proprioception is the body’s own intuitive sense of its position. When we stand on one leg, we can tell when the leg holding us up becomes tired or too weak to continue on. The body intuitively reacts by placing the opposite foot down to stabilize the rest of the body. When you build up the proprioceptors within your body through balance and coordination our body is better able to react quickly in stressful or severe situations.
The best way to strengthen the ankle is to go through the four motions of the ankle. These exercises can be done sitting, standing or even while lying down. Ankle circles are a great way to warm up the ankles before starting the exercises. While sitting in a chair, rotate your ankle slowly making a full circle. Repeat this motion 10 times then go in the opposite direction. Continue with the same number of times on the opposite foot. Remember to maintain speed and fluid motion to really engage the ankle muscles.
For plantar flexion and dorsiflexion start by sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you. Place a rolled up towel or pillow underneath your calf to elevate your leg off the floor. Bring your toes back towards your shin as far as you can without bending your knee. Hold this position for six seconds. Then slowly point your toes and hold for six seconds. Return to starting position. Do 10 repetitions for each motion on both feet. For inversion and eversion, sit straight up in a chair. Slowly turn your foot inward as far as you can. Hold this position for six seconds. Then slowly turn the same foot out away from the body, hold for six seconds. Repeat each motion 10 times and continue on opposite foot. As you continue with these exercises ankle weights or cables/ therabands can add extra resistance to strengthen the muscles further.