Do you approach every rock in the trail with caution? Does a game of soccer make you break in a cold sweat? Do you lace up your high tops like you’re strapping into a parachute?
If you deal with weak ankles, you may wonder if you’ll ever be able to play your favorite sports or explore the outdoors without worrying about injury. We spoke with Drew Jenk, a doctor of physical therapy with Banner Health, to gain some tips to strengthen your ankles and open the door to worry-free exercise.
Were You Born This Way?
“When I hear someone complain of “weak ankles” or frequent ankle injuries, there are a few things I look for right away,” said Dr. Jenk.
- Has there been a recent injury? Have they sprained their ankle recently, or in the past? And if in the past, how many times? There is a subgroup of people who will fall into a chronic ankle instability category as a result of injury.
- Are the joints unstable? Do they have inherent joint hypermobility or something else, like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a condition affecting your connective tissues?
- Are the ankles just a little weak? Some ankles are imbalanced with uneven support in certain positions. Other ankles lack good motor control, which could increase your likelihood for injury.
Whether you were born with weaker ankles or if you suffer more frequent ankle injuries because the joint was previously damaged, it is important to know the cause of the issue. Dr. Jenk commented, “Your treatment will work to solve the root issue in your joint. A physical therapist will investigate your range of motion, the strength of the muscles surrounding your ankle and your balance to find what is causing your ankles to feel weak.”
Dr. Jenk listed a few common issues linked to weak ankles. “Laxity in the ligaments is common in weak ankles, this means your ligaments may not be providing the full support your joint requires. You may also be suffering from weakness in your foot’s intrinsic muscles, the dorsiflexors or evertors. Lastly, your weak ankles could be linked to weakness in surrounding muscle groups, such as the gluteal muscles in your hips.” Dr. Jenk also mentioned that some skeletal issues could be to blame but noted that this is in very rare cases.
Tips to Strengthen Your Ankles
- Heal! If you’ve recently sprained, strained or torn your ankle, your first course of action should be to rest and heal. There may be exercises you can do during this time, but don’t rush back into activity. Reinjuries can become a real setback and lead to lasting weakness.
- Strengthen your ankle. Dr Jenk mentioned that your ankle weakness is likely not a sign that you aren’t working out enough. Weak ankles can occur at any level of athleticism. Working with your physical therapist, you will get a regimen of regular exercises to strengthen weak spots in your ankle. Many of these exercises will focus on improving your balance.
- Should I stretch? “Most ankle injuries are related to hypermobility,” commented Dr. Jenk. “So, stretching can be a core element in your recovery with the goal being to regain your healthy range of motion.”
- Support your ankle with braces. To avoid reinjury, use a brace recommended by your therapist to support your joint. Your therapist may recommend removing the brace once your ankle has gotten stronger. Dr. Jenk warned that braces do not replace rehab, but they may improve your gains from it.
- Choose “low-risk” activities once you get moving. Cycling and swimming are both low-impact sports that make your ankle less vulnerable. Follow a safe progression when reintroducing yourself to sports like trail running. Start by walking or jogging on even ground.
Do What You Love
Your ankles are way too important to put off a developing issue. Before you brush off your ankles as “weak,” speak with a Banner Health physical therapist to see if they can be stabilized. You may be able to turn your weakness into a strength. If you have suffered an ankle injury or if you suspect that you may have a deficit with any joint, Dr. Jenk recommended acting right away. Get back to doing what you love and schedule an appointment with a Banner Health expert today.