Ask Dr. K: Strengthen ankle muscles to prevent future strains

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have weak ankles, and as a result, I have frequent ankle sprains. Can you suggest some ankle-strengthening exercises?

DEAR READER: Our ankles are workhorses and take a lot of abuse. They must bear the full weight of our bodies, yet stay nimble and flexible through every step and jump. It’s amazing they work as well as they do.

As is true with every weight-bearing joint in our bodies, the muscles that affect the movement of the joint are the joint’s best friends. I learned this the hard way. I badly injured my right quadriceps muscle playing basketball when I was in my 20s. The quadriceps is in the front of the upper leg and protects the hip. Despite my exercising, that muscle never regained normal strength. As a result, 30 years later I needed a right hip joint replacement. My left hip was perfectly fine.

Weak muscles supporting the ankle make you more vulnerable to injuries such as sprains. They also make you more likely to fall, and to suffer injuries from the fall. Ankle sprains stretch or even tear the ligaments that keep ankle bones and joints properly positioned. And in a vicious cycle, lax ligaments set the stage for additional sprains.

A combination of strengthening and stretching ankle exercises can help increase much-needed flexibility in your ankles. They can help build up supporting muscles that keep you balanced whether you’re standing still, walking over changing terrain or dancing.

I’ve put photos of two ankle-strengthening exercises and one ankle stretch on my website, AskDoctorK.com.

As we have grown heavier in the United States over the past 40 years, our ankles have been subjected to even more challenges. If you’ve ever had an ankle injury, or if you sometimes feel unsteady on your ankles, consider regular exercise, in addition to the exercises above, to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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