Ask the physio: Weak ankles

Keep your ankles strong under pressure.


by Paul Hobrough
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The issue: When you run, a lot of force is transmitted through the ankles, up to three times your weight. Your ankle is the hinge between the muscles and tendons (which provide the power) and the ground. Weakness in the joint can lead to a loss of speed and form, and an increase in injury risk.

How it affects your form: Two key supporting ankle muscles are the peroneals on the outside of the lower leg, which operate the footstrike and control supination; and the tibialis posterior, running from inside the calf down to the medial side (the inside) of the ankle, which affects pronation. Large numbers of ligaments and tendons also make up the ankle structure. If you have weak peroneals your foot strike will be less stable and you’ll also overload your ligaments, putting them under more stress. If the tibialis posterior muscle is weak you will lose strength during pronation, and this is often the cause of shin splint pain. This loss of control can affect your balance, so you use motor control and muscle power from other sources to keep you upright, ultimately affecting the knee, hip and even the lower back. Building good balance will reduce your risk of acute injury, such as rolling your ankle, as well as chronic issues such as shin splints and runner’s knee.

The tests: Balance on one leg in front of a mirror. Watch how much your foot and ankle wobble. Can you maintain balance easily? Then try balancing while moving the other leg forward and back, as if running; can you still maintain your balance?

Try the Y-balance test. Place a tape measure on the floor, angled 45 degrees backwards away from your standing foot (backwards and left from your right foot, or backwards and right from your left). While balancing on one leg, reach back with your toe and touch the farthest point on the measure you can without losing your balance. Repeat this measurement on the other side and compare. According to a recent study, runners with reach differences greater than four centimetres are two-and-a-half times more likely to sustain an injury.

Recommended moves: Work on balance whenever you can. Brush your teeth on one leg, eyes closed if you get good at it.

Single-leg cone touch: Set up two cones (ideally of different heights) in front of you, a foot apart. Standing on one leg, pivot forward at the hip to touch the top of one cone. Jump up, land and touch the other cone. Switch legs every two reps and rest every eight. Do 3-4 sets. Make it harder by doing it on an unstable surface such as a Bosu ball.

Bosu ball figure 8: Stand on a Bosu ball, feet apart. Hold a medium-weight medicine ball and squat. As you do, move the ball to the right of your legs, knees forward. Stand and slowly take the ball overhead. Squat again, taking the ball to the left. Repeat the right, overhead and left moves in a figure-of-eight motion. Do 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.


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