Ankle injuries are common, usually resulting from going over on or rolling your ankle. Whether it is a sporting injury or one that happened in your own home, the result is often an ankle sprain, causing a range of symptoms including pain, swelling and stiffness.
If you have ever sprained your ankle before, you will have noticed that the stability of your ankle joint is reduced from that point onwards. Further, the range of motion at your ankle joint is usually reduced too. In this article I will highlight some of the ways you may be affected when you injure your ankle, providing a series of exercises you can perform to mobilise, strengthen and stabilise the ankle joint and reduce the risk of future injury.
Ankle sprains are a common injury with a study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal finding that they account for between 3% and 5% of all Emergency Department visits in the UK. This equates to around 5,600 incidents each day. Ankle sprains are particularly common in competitive and recreational sports with research suggesting that you are at a higher risk if you compete in indoor and court sports. In addition, females and younger populations are also at higher risk.
If you have damaged the ligaments around your ankle joint, it is likely you will have noticed that this injury affects your balance. This is due to your posture control, neuromuscular control and proprioception being impaired. Proprioception can be explained as the awareness of your own body and contributes to both static and dynamic postural stability. It is made up of joint sense, motion sense (kinaesthesia) and resistance sense.
It is important to note that the recurrence rate of ankle sprains is high. A study looking into injury recurrence rates in college athletes in the United States found that ankles were the most commonly re-injured body part. Athletes with recurrent ankle sprains have often resulted in ongoing impairment and chronic instability. Therefore, it is essential that you complete a progressive rehabilitation programme and performing mobility, balance and strength exercises are all an important part of that.
Ankle mobility or the amount of movement around your ankle joint is likely to reduce as a result of your ankle injury. Poor ankle mobility, in particular dorsiflexion (pulling your toes towards your knee) can be seen following ankle sprains, therefore, improving ankle mobility should be included in your programme.
Here are two exercises you can perform to improve ankle dorsiflexion and mobility:
Knee to wall rotations
- In a controlled movement, rotate your knee over your toes while keeping your foot flat on the floor.
- Perform the rotations in both directions.
- Place one foot on box.
- In a controlled movement, push your knee over your toes while keeping your heel flat on the box.
Balance and Proprioception
Following ankle injuries, balance training is another essential part of the rehabilitation programme. Good balance is particularly beneficial for sports performance. Research has shown that in a group of male athletes from football, handball, basketball and volleyball, better balance ability was significantly correlated with their agility performance.
In order to reduce the risk of an ankle injury, or ankle re-injury, it is important that you strengthen the muscles and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) around the ankle joint. Here are two exercises you can use to strengthen, in the former the foot, ankle and calf, and in the latter, the lower body along with the ankle, knee and hip.
- Using a raised step or something similar, stand on the balls of your feet with your heels hanging off.
- In controlled movement, lower your heels towards the ground.
- Then in a more explosive but controlled movement, raise on to your tiptoes.
- Use the wall or something similar for support.
Wall knee drives
- This is a great exercise to recruit the muscles in the lower body as you drive up and extend at the ankle knee and hip.
- Start in a split stance position, taking a forward lean into the wall – as you can see, using your arms for support.
- Rapidly push into the floor, extending your leg and creating a straight line from your shoulder to your ankle.
Important to note
The above information is not intended to be medical advice tailored specifically for you. The first steps towards dealing with your ankle injury should be to meet with a medical professional and have your ankle assessed so you have a proper diagnosis for your pain. The professional in question can then help you with the rehabilitation of your ankle by creating a personalised rehabilitation programme.