Ankle instability can throw a major wrench in your daily activities since it can affect your ability to comfortably bear weight through your feet. Ankle instability is most often a result of an injury, such as a sprain or fracture, but can also be due to underlying health conditions that cause laxity in local connective tissue. Thankfully, there is a simple way to boost your confidence and stability in the ankle: ankle instability exercises. Keep reading to learn more about how to incorporate ankle exercises into your weekly exercise program.
When it comes to ankle instability, often there are actually specific areas in the ankle that have too much mobility while there are others that are too stiff. If you are experiencing chronic ankle sprains or pain, you may have also developed a lot of stiffness from local muscle guarding. Stretching the ankle in the right direction to restore balance is essential. However, it’s important not to force any motions that feel unstable or off with ankle instability.
Having adequate dorsiflexion (bending) range of motion in the ankle is essential for reducing the risk of injuries. When proper mechanics are promoted in the ankle, this helps the muscles and connective tissues work in optimal coordination.
While the stretch reviewed above is directed more at the ankle joint itself, you may have tight muscles that need to be addressed too. Some of the top offenders with ankle stiffness are the achilles tendon and calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus. This simple stretch can help alleviate pain and restore some balance to the ankle.
Knowing which ankle mobility exercises to choose can be tricky with ankle instability. This is because you don’t want to overstretch any areas of the ankle that are already inherently unstable from your injury or reinforce any areas of hypermobility that may be present (such as the lateral ankle with inversion sprains). Ultimately, this is where having the guidance of a professional like a physical therapist can help. Some commonly recommended movements include:
Once your ankle becomes unstable from an injury or pre-existing condition, strengthening exercises play a primary role in restoring stability. This is because once many of the surrounding connective tissues are stretched, particularly local ligaments, they lose their innate stability and cannot return to their previous level of function. Thus, the strength of local muscles is the best way to gain back some stability. These ankle strengthening exercises will focus on general ankle strength and functional strength to boost proprioception.
Strengthening the muscles around the ankle will help promote adequate endurance with daily activities and blood flow for any necessary healing. It’s a great first step in the recovery process before progressing to the more functional moves listed below.
Plus, you can add other ankle motions with this 3 way band exercise to add ankle plantarflexion inversion, and eversion too. Most importantly, focus on eversion after an inversion ankle sprain.
Being able to push through your toes with good strength and stability is arguably one of the most important functional moves you can work on. This is because you need this functional move dialed in each time you take a step with walking, going up stairs, or running. Walking/stepping is when we most often sprain our ankles too.
Being able to balance on one foot with ankle instability can be extremely difficult. This is most often due to sensory changes in the ankle that affects proprioception- the ability of your ankle to sense where it is in space with use. Working on balance exercises can help restore better sensation and make it feel less wobbly and awkward with weight bearing activity.
The use of the right tools is always useful when it comes to an ankle exercise program. They can make your exercises easier, more efficient, or provide an extra challenge. Here are some of our favorite tools.
A stretch strap is a great versatile tool for getting a strong stretch in the ankle without straining the back or neck from reaching (as illustrated in the calf stretch explanation above). It can be used to address other common problem areas in your body as well to keep your connective tissue and muscles as flexible and pain free as possible with your daily routine. Stretching is an essential part of your exercise routine if you experience frequent soreness or stiffness, and a stretching tool can make it that much easier to do it consistently.
Use of a resistance band is particularly useful when it comes to ankle strengthening. Use of weights with ankle range of motion is practically impossible, while bands can provide a wide range of options for strengthening specific muscles in the toes, feet, and ankles. Plus, the muscles of the foot and ankle are designed for postural endurance based activities, such as standing or walking for longer periods of time, making the lower resistance of bands ideal for building this specific type of strength.
If you want to take your calf stretching to the next level, consider a calf stretcher. This simple tool makes stretching the calves, a common problem area, easy and straightforward. Many users report getting a deeper, more satisfying stretch with use of a designated stretcher over other stretching methods such as use of step or standing in a lunge. You can buy options that stretch one ankle at a time or both at once, depending on your needs.
Use of balance trainers is the secret ingredient to recovery with ankle instability. Forcing the ankle to stabilize itself in unsteady conditions helps it re-establish the sensory input it needs to function and coordinate optimally with daily activities. Without restoring appropriate ankle sensation, you will continue to be at a higher risk for re-injury and just feel less coordinated on your feet than you did pre-injury.
Outside of proper exercise, there are a few other tips to keep in mind that can boost your ankle stability. These include but are not limited to the following:
Stay consistent with your exercise program (at least a few times per week) and push yourself to new limits as tolerated to make continued progress
Pair your exercise with proper pain management and other home treatment options- pain can alter the way your ankle coordinates movement. Make sure you are managing it well with modalities such as medication, ice, heat, and electrical stimulation
Boost proprioception of the ankle with regular balance exercises to be able to return safely to higher level activities
Wear supportive shoes or insole orthotics to support your feet and reduce the risk of ankle reinjury and instability
Consider use of kinesiology tape or a brace for additional ankle support when completing activities that tend to make your ankle feel unstable
Recovering from ankle injuries that cause instability is all about finding exercises that restore as much balance within the joint as possible. This is why the focus with exercise is on regaining adequate ankle mobility, strength, and balance tolerance. With these in mind, you can expect to feel more confident in your ankle- whether it’s for walking safely or getting back to your favorite sport.
If your symptoms are getting worse or you feel unstable on your feet due to ankle rolling, it’s time to get in touch with a trusted medical professional for further medical advice.
Sources:Shop Ankle Stability
Next Pages:Taping for Ankle Instability