Q+A: How can I strengthen my ankles?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Martin Haines

Q I recently turned my ankle and suffered a pulled ligament as a result. After 10 days in a cast and a week in an ankle support, I’m now able to run again. But I’m concerned about long-term weakness. Is there anything I can do to strengthen the ankle, and should I run in a support?

A Once you have been in plaster, your calf muscles – and leg muscles generally – will waste. If specific work is not performed to rectify this, there is a chance that, sooner or later, further injury will occur. So you are absolutely right: you do need to strengthen and re-educate the ankle.

Get hold of a latex rubber strip – usually called a cliniband or dynaband – which you can use to strengthen the calf. Try sitting on the floor with your leg straight and hooking the band around the forefoot. Attach the other end to a table leg (or something immobile at the height of your foot) so that you can use the band as a resistance to strengthen your ankle. Position yourself so that the band resists both the flexion and rotation of your foot. Do three sets of 12–15 repetitions of each every day.

In addition, you lose proprioception in a joint that has been injured and immobilised. This means the cells in the ankle that would normally tell your brain where the joint is in space (without you having to look), are temporarily switched off. You need to stimulate them into action by performing balancing exercises. Try standing on one leg with your eyes closed for two minutes. Make sure that you’re near something you can hold on to in case your balance isn’t as good as you thought.

As for an ankle support, one may be helpful if the ligament is stretched to such an extent that it can’t function properly. Ligaments act as strain gauges, and normally give information to your brain to tell the muscles to contract to protect the joint. If the ligaments are loose, the joint can be damaged before the ligaments recognise that it’s being put under pressure. In this case, a support can be helpful to physically limit the movement in a joint.

Martin Haines, chartered physiotherapist and sports injury specialist


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I recently twisted my ankle coming down a steep hill in the mountains the time to recover was quite short as I iced it every 3 hours after I got home and the day after(a bowl of cold water with as much ice as i could throw in for 15mins at a time)and have an excellent exercise from my physio on how to strengthen it after. Stand on one leg and balance-sounds easy but now close your eyes and keep there for 1 minute! It really works and improves the feel through your feet which is vital for balance.
Posted: 25/04/2005 at 20:14

I had been doing these exercises before under the instruction from the physio .... I am sure this helped in my recovery from a sprained ankle 2 weeks ago :-)


Posted: 25/04/2005 at 20:25

Physio gave me the same exercise when I badly sprained my ankle in November. Definitely works. And he advised to continue doing it after the injury was healed to generally strengthen ankles and lessen risk of repeat.
Posted: 27/04/2005 at 13:13

I've not done anything nasty to my ankles (touch wood it continues), but I've been told I over-pronate when I run. The trainers I wear have corrected most of the problem but not all of it. Is there anything I can do to to stop over-pronating completly?
Posted: 14/06/2005 at 22:30

Hi Nikki

Apart from good footwear and orthotic inserts, there's a few other things you can do.

Firstly, a thorough and correct warm up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity or sport. Without a proper warm up the muscles and tendons around your feet, ankles and lower legs will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the lower legs, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for those muscles.

Secondly, flexible muscles are extremely important in the prevention of most ankle and lower leg injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they are able to move and perform without being over stretched. If however, your muscles and tendons are tight and stiff, it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement.

And thirdly, strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the lower leg will also help to prevent ankle and lower leg injuries.


Regards
Brad Walker
www.TheStretchingHandbook.com

Posted: 15/06/2005 at 03:46

I turned my ankle about 9 days ago and experienced the normal swelling and bruising.  I iced the injury within 30 minutes and continued RICE for the next few days (around my work schedule).  The swelling has definitely eased off substantially, but is still evident.  The ankle only hurts when I push off whilst walking, although not excruciatingly! It feels like a ligament around the outside of the joint. It can also be painful to the touch on occasion. I have tried a couple of easy runs.  The ankle has some discomfort for 1-1.5 miles and then eases off.  I'm seeing my physio next week, but was wondering in the meantime if this sounds familiar to anyone and if so, do I need to worry?  Any good exercises to do in the meantime?  I'm running FLM for charity and don't want to let down the charity or sponsors down.  Thanks very much!

Ken


Posted: 31/01/2008 at 12:03

MM - I'm the same. I went over on my ankle in August in a fell race, and was out for about 6 weeks. I rehabbed it properly and have been fine until it happened again (twice!) on sunday. The swelling is going down nicely, and the bruising is healing. I'm running the 3 Peaks race in April and Edinburgh in May.

I'm treating it as a week or two off, before starting training again. I was getting tired anyway, so in terms of timing it's ok.

Stay positive and think of it as having a rest. You'll be relaxed and refreshed to start again, and you'll be fine for London.


Posted: 31/01/2008 at 12:30

Hello

I went over on my ankle in a pothole about two weeks ago. Lots of bruising and swelling but Iced it for a couple of days and it felt okay. did a couple of runs and then my foot really started to hurt. Had x-rays yesterday - no broken bones showing, but the foot pain is stopping me from running at the moment. The pain in along the outside edge of my foot and just underneath. Off to see a physio today, but desperately need to get back out there for FLM training!

Ds - I'm going to try the balance exercise and keep stretching etc following the advice given here - thanks!


Posted: 05/02/2008 at 06:30

I went over in August.  I rested for two weeks then started running on it because there was no pain or swelling.

A few weeks later I had an achilles problem in the other foot.  Turned out that the sprain hadn't fully healed and I was having to compensate with the other leg.

Physio and pod both told me to do the same exercises as David, and to use the wobble board at the gym, and although I have improved a lot, my ankle hasn't been the same since.

Now that I am back running properly I have started doing cross country.  It strengthens the ankles a treat so that next time I fall over, my ankle should be strong enough that I don't sprain it.

Lesson learnt: Sprains can take an awfully long time to heal.


Posted: 06/02/2008 at 15:39

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