Last week we looked at sports with a high incidence of ankle sprains, the common mechanisms of injury and then how best to manage your sprained ankle. This week I thought we should take a step back and look at some exercises to help strengthen your ankle and possibly avoid sprains in the first place! Here are my top 5 ankle exercises you should be doing to help minimise the risk of spraining your ankle…
1. Wobble board or Bosu ball proprioception
Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your body part is in space. With uninjured ligaments, this occurs subconsciously. However once injured, your ligaments ability to convey messages to the brain about the joints position in space is reduced. This translates to a feeling of instability and loss of balance. Proprioceptive and balance exercises teach your body to control the position of an injured joint.
Image courtesy sportfactor.net
On your wobble board or Bosu, to improve your ankle proprioception, try each of these drills for 2 minutes each:
- Stand feet shoulder width apart, and rock the board forwards and backwards
- Stand feet shoulder width apart, and rotate the wobble board round so that the edge of the board is always in contact with the floor
- Balance on the wobble board for as long as you can without the edges touching the floor
- Rotate the wobble board in a circle but do not allow the edge of the board to touch the floor
- Balancing on the board with both feet, perform quarter squats. Once you’re able, try going deeper into the squat
- Balancing on the board/Bosu with both feet, throw a ball against a wall and catch it
Once this sequence is mastered, try working one leg at a time!
To challenge the ankle further, with the Bosu ball, turn your ball over so the flat surface is on the floor and try:
- Keeping ankle still without swaying in any direction
- Mini squats
- Throwing a ball against the wall
2. Calf raises / Walking on toes
These exercises not only help strengthen your calves, they have the added benefit of improving your proprioception!
Image courtesy sportsinjuryclinic.net
- Starting with your feet shoulders width apart and knees straight, rise up and down on your toes in a smooth, controlled motion. If required, place your fingertips on the wall for balance. Once your balance improves, try the same movement without holding the wall. Complete 3 sets of 12-15 reps. You should notice quick improvements if you are practising every day.
- Once you’re able, progress to a single leg raise. This will be a lot more difficult! Again, build up to 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- A progression for some might be doing the same single leg raise but off the side of a step. This may require you to use your fingertips again for balance but try to go without!
A different motion that also helps strengthen your calves and work on your proprioception is walking on your toes.
- Simply rise up onto your toes as if you were wearing really high heels, keeping your knees straight and your ankles in line (not rolling outwards)
- Walk forward and back without lowering your heels. Build up slowly, and aim for between 30 seconds to 2 minutes
So easy to do and no equipment is required, which is even better! There are many variations on hopping exercises. You can:
- Start with a small hop on the same spot
- Progress to larger hops on the same spot
- Try alternating legs, e.g. 3 hops on the left, 3 on the right, 3 on the left etc.
- Then try hopping to the front, to the side, and backwards. You can use the lines on flooring or a basketball court to mark out the pattern, otherwise just use your imagination and be consistent where your hop lands
- Once you are more advanced, try hopping in a zig zag pattern. Again, use lines on the floor to hop over. Start with small hops either side of the line, then progress to wider, larger hops
- For some fun, why not try reliving your childhood with some hop-scotch!
With all hopping exercises, focus on landing softly and avoid looking down at your foot if you can!
4. Box Jumps
Help your ankle tolerate jumping and landing by doing box jumps! Using a step or small box (approximately 10-20cm high), remember to land softly (not stiff) on your foot:
- Start by jumping sideways off a box onto floor. This can also be done forwards and backwards
- Try taking the step outdoors, placing it on some grass. Jump and land on the grass
Gradually reduce the rest between each rep. Try doing each drill for 30 seconds.
Image courtesy sportsinjuryclinic.net
5. Calf stretches
Your calf is made up of two large muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus. Improve your calf length and ankle range of movement by doing these two simple but effective calf stretches – with these, you’ll be target both muscles. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, repeat each stretch 3 times. You should feel only a stretching sensation, never any pain. Ease off the stretch if pain is felt.
Images courtesy sportsinjuryclinic.net
If you have a history of ankle sprains or a recent sprain, please see your Physiotherapist first for an accurate assessment and discuss whether these exercises are appropriate for your ankle. If you experience any pain, swelling or discomfort during or after performing these exercises, please cease them, and contact your Physiotherapist for further advice.
As always, for helpful advice, guidance or an assessment of ankle condition or strengthening, book in with us at Revive Physiotherapy and Pilates!