DEAR DOCTOR K: I tend to sprain my ankle fairly often. Are there any exercises that could help me strengthen my ankles and prevent future sprains?
DEAR READER: Your ankles are remarkable joints. They must bear the full weight of your body, yet stay nimble and flexible.
Ankle sprains occur when you roll your foot inward or outward, or turn or twist an ankle. Probably the most common cause of an ankle sprain is when your foot comes down on the floor or ground, and instead of landing on the sole of the foot you land on the outer edge of the foot. The force of your weight on the outer edge puts a great strain on the ligaments of the outer part of your ankle.
That stretches, or even tears, the ligaments that keep the bones and joints properly positioned. Depending on the force applied as you land, the sprain can be mild, moderate or severe.
The same injuries that cause ankle sprains can also cause ankle fractures. It can be hard even for your doctor to determine if you’ve broken a bone just by examining your ankle; an X-ray often is needed. Weak ankles not only have a tendency toward repeated sprains; they also are more easily fractured.
Weak ankles often can be traced to repeated sprains that loosen the ligaments – and loose ligaments increase the risk of future ankle sprains. It’s a vicious cycle.
However, loose ligaments are not the only reason ankles have a tendency to suffer from sprains. Weakness of muscles that support the ankle also make sprains more likely. That’s where exercises come in.
You’re likely to benefit from an ankle workout that incorporates strength exercises and stretches. These exercises will help you increase flexibility in your ankles and build up ankle-supporting muscles.
If possible, work with a physical therapist. He or she can design an individualized program to meet your needs. In the meantime, I’ve put a few ankle-strengthening exercises on my website, AskDoctorK.com.