As runners, we understand the value of our legs and our feet. But your ankles deserve respect as well.
“Ankle and foot strength plays a major role in what happens in your entire kinetic chain when you’re running,” says Dr. Marci Goolsby from the Women’s Sports Medicine Centre in New York, and team doctor for the New York Liberty. “It’s really important to address any issues and make sure you’re as symmetrical and balanced as possible.”
Related: User's guide to your ankles
Here, Goolsby and two other experts share exactly what you’ll gain when you give your ankles the attention - and respect - they deserve.
1/ Prevent painful sprains
The most common type of ankle injury is classified as “inverse,” meaning the sole of the foot twists inward. About 80 percent of ankle injuries fall into this category, explains Dr. Steven Weinfeld, Chief of Foot and Ankle Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
This can happen when you take a misstep while running (or even walking) that rolls your foot in underneath your ankle. Having strong muscles surrounding your ankles (the ankle itself isn’t a muscle) can help prevent this type of injury, commonly known as a sprain.
“When you take a misstep and your ligaments start to twist, the muscles on the outside of your ankle can fire back and prevent the twisting,” explains Weinfeld. “Your muscles can be trained to help protect you from these injuries.”
2/ Combat Achilles and posterior tibial tendinitis
Two other common injuries that result from your foot twisting inward: Achilles and posterior tibial tendinitis. When your foot pronates (or rolls inwards), it puts undue stress on the surrounding tendons.
“With repetition, this causes micro-tearing [also called tendinitis],” explains Dr. John Jachimiak from Boulder County Foot & Ankle Clinic. This tendinitis can damage your Achilles as well as your posterior tibial, the tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the bones on the inside of the foot.
3/ Protect your adjacent joints
A weak, misaligned ankle can stress the adjacent joints, including your knee, hip and lower back, says Weinfeld.
“If something is off or abnormal anywhere along this kinetic chain and you are asking your body to do an asymmetrical sport like running, you will likely see injuries elsewhere,” adds Goolsby.
4/ Boost your athletic performance
“Most people - including elite athletes - have deficiencies in ankle strength,” says Jachimiak, who notes that when it comes to running, stronger muscles around your ankles mean more power, agility and mobility out on the road.
5/ Improve running stride
Having sturdy ankles while running can “help your heels come down properly and ensure a correct stride,” says Weinfeld. “It’s a matter of keeping your limbs properly aligned.”
Ready to injury-proof your ankles? Try these four ankle-strengthening moves.