People tend to take their ankles for granted. They often do not stop to think that these joints support their body weight, allow them to walk, run, turn, stand on tiptoe, and do so much more. Dancers, figure skaters, and athletes depend on ankles to pivot, change direction, jump, and sprint. As long as these joints are healthy, athletes and regular folks do not give them much thought. Even ankle pain is of little concern to most people. It is only when a sprain occurs that individuals begin to consider ways to relieve the associated ankle pain, strengthen the joint, speed healing and, just as importantly, to prevent an ankle injury from recurring.
There are many factors that cause ligaments to stretch or tear, resulting in the sharp and almost unbearable ankle pain that accompanies an ankle sprain: walking on a broken sidewalk or other uneven surface; a jump that ends in a clumsy landing; a fall or other movement that causes the ankle to twist out of its normal position; inadequate warming up before exercise; and participating in a sport or physical activity for which one is not conditioned, especially if he or she is overweight. The possibility of an ankle sprain occurring intensifies if an individual has previously injured the joint.
In addition, current lifestyle trends contribute to ankle instability and resultant ankle pain. Closed and high-heeled shoes and urban walking surfaces reduce the ability of muscles to keep ankles stabilized and result in a loss of proprioception—an awareness of the position of the ankle as the foot comes in contact with the ground even when the person does not see the joint. All these factors combine to increase the likelihood of an ankle sprain and other ankle injury.
It is unnecessary and unwise to wait until an ankle injury occurs to take action to strengthen these vital joints. Especially if ankle pain is present, taking action is important to keep them healthy. Strength training to improve fibular and ligament vigor and keep ankle pain under control–and prevent an ankle sprain–need not involve visits to the gym or physical therapist. These simple exercises increase proprioception, muscle tone, joint stability, and the brain’s ability to anticipate body movement.
Acting now to keep ankles healthy will guarantee freedom from painful and devastating injury for years to come. It only takes a few minutes a day.
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