Preventing Ankle Injuries

Ankle injuries are common in many sports and what's more, they can cause long-term, persistent problems. "Prevention is the best cure!"

In order to avoid suffering a debilitating ankle injury, follow our simple 10 step exercise program: Ankle injuries are very common in sporting and everyday situations. The most common of all ankle injuries is a sprained ankle. In most cases this is a sprain to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle, which is known as an inversion sprain. Other common ankle injuries include achilles tendonitis, achilles tendon rupture, high ankle sprain, tarsal tunnel syndrome and fractures.

The first 4 exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles surrounding the ankle which are responsible for providing ankle movements. Exercises 5 - 8 are for ankle flexibility and exercises 9 and 10 can help to improve balance or 'proprioception'. With all strengthening exercises, start with 2 sets of 15 exercises and increase steadily to 3 sets of 20 before using the suggested progressions. For stretches, hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat twice.

1. Calf Raises

Calf raises are an age-old favorite when it comes to ankle strengthening, but that's because they require no equipment, can easily be progressed and, they work!

Start by performing on both legs. Stand with the feet shoulder width apart. Keep the knees straight as you raise the heels up off the floor as high as you can. Return to the floor and repeat.

To progress this exercise, perform on a step, with the heels unsupported. You can increase the range of motion and so difficulty by allowing the heels to drop below the level of the step.

Progress further by performing on a single leg, firstly on the floor, and then on a step.

2. Resistance Band Strengthening

Resistance bands are stretchy lengths of rubber which can be used to apply resistance to a movement. They can be used to resist any movement and so are excellent tools for a rehabilitation program. When aiming to prevent ankle injuries, use a band to resist ankle inversion and eversion. These are two movements which are commonly overlooked.

Inversion

Start sitting on the floor with the legs outstretched and a band wrapped around the foot you want to work.

To resist inversion tie the other end of the band around something sturdy to the outside of the leg.

Perform inversion by keeping the lower leg still and trying to point the toes across to the other leg.

Eversion

Still sitting on the floor, move the attachment of the band so that is on the other side of the body.

Perform eversion by turning the foot out and trying to point the toes away from the other foot.

3. Lunges

Lunges are an excellent exercise for strengthening all of the muscles of the lower limb. They can be progressed as your ankle strengthens by increasing the depth of the lunge and then jumping from one leg to the other.

Stand in a wide stance position, with either foot in front.

Keep your back upright as you bend your back knee, lowering it towards the floor (don't let it touch).

The front knee should bend no further than 90 degrees and should stay behind your toes.

Return to the start position.

Repeat with the other leg in front.

To progress you can add a split jump so that you swap legs mid-air.

4. Hops

Hopping is an excellent activity to strengthen the ankle joints dynamically. Do not attempt this exercise if you have an existing injury or cannot comfortably complete all of the above exercises.

Stand on one leg and hop from this leg, onto the other in a forwards direction.

Hop higher and further forwards to progress.

To progress further, hop off one leg and land on the same leg.

You can string hops together to cross a room.

5. Gastrocnemius Stretch

Gastrocnemius is the largest of the two calf muscles which sits over the smaller Soleus. To stretch this muscle, hold the following position for 30 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretching sensation in the back of the lower leg. If this fades, move further into the stretch.

Stand on a step with the heels off the back of the step, make sure you have something to hold on to.

Keep the knees straight and slowly lower the heels down, below the level of the step until you can feel a stretch.

6. Soleus Stretch

Soleus is the muscle which lies underneath Gastrocnemius and is often overlooked when it comes to stretching the calf. In order to 'remove' gastrocnemius from the stretch you must bend the knee.

Stand with one leg in front of the other close to a wall.

Place your hands on the wall and lean forwards.

Bend both knees as if trying to touch the front knee on the wall.

Keep the back heel down and you should feel a stretch low down in the calf.

7. Shin Stretch

Stretching the muscles of the shin such as Tibialis Anterior can be difficult, which is why many people do not incorporate a stretch for these muscles in their routine.

Stand with your toes of the left foot on the floor on the outside of your right foot.

Bend the right leg to push your ankle towards the ground.

8. Peroneal Stretch

The peroneal muscles run down the outside of the lower leg and play an important role in maintaining foot position when we walk and run. Biomechanical problems such as over-pronation can cause these muscles to tighten up.

Sit in a chair with one ankle resting on the other knee.

With your hands, point the toes away (plantarflex) and turn the sole of the foot upwards (invert).

9. Balance Exercices

In order to avoid injury, the ankle must be strong and stable, meaning it needs to have good balance. You don't have to have any special equipment to improve your balance, or proprioception. Go through the exercises below and progress to the next one if you can maintain your balance for one minute. If not, keep working on it!

Stand on one leg and balance for as long as you can, unaided.

Stand on one leg and lift your arms from by your sides to above your head, repeat this, getting gradually quicker.

Stand on one leg and put your palms together in front of you. In this position, rotate your upper body as far as you can one way and then the other.

Stand on one leg and close your eyes!

10. Wobble Board Exercices

If you have access to a wobble board or cushion, they can be very useful pieces of equipment. Go through the exercises below, trying to hold each one for a minute. If you can, move on. If not, keep working on it!

Balance on the board on both feet.

Balance on the board on both feet with the eyes closed.

Balance on one foot.

Balance on one foot and lift your arms from by your sides to above your head, repeat this, getting gradually quicker.

Stand on one leg and put your palms together in front of you. In this position, rotate your upper body as far as you can one way and then the other.

Stand on one leg and perform mini squats, bending the knee a little and straightening it again, getting deeper as you progress.