Like knee injuries, ankle injuries are one of the most common fitness injuries. They can happen to any runner at any time, but new runners, older runners, and certain other groups are more prone to these wounds. Ankle sprains are much more common among women, mostly due to gender-specific biological factors such as higher estrogen levels, more body fat, and less muscle mass.
The bad news is that ankle injuries can effectively derail a fitness regimen. However, the good news is that these injuries are usually not terribly serious, if treated properly and promptly, and they are even easier to prevent.
Proprioception, which is essentially the body’s internal guidance system, is the medical term for balance training. With every stride and footfall, each muscle moves in a certain way and performs a certain function. If your strides or footfalls are out of balance, injury often results.
Kinesthesia, or muscle memory, is one way to improve balance. The more you run, the more your muscles will react in the correct way. Challenging your body often improves balance as well. Stand on one foot while combing your hair. Then, after that gets too easy, stand on one foot while brushing your teeth with your eyes closed and going through the list of state capitals in your head. Well, maybe that last part is optional.
As mentioned earlier, some people simply lack the muscles and fat needed to properly support their ankles during vigorous activity. Often, the repetitive motion makes them even weaker, creating the possibility for something really serious, like a fracture or tendon rupture,
So, a good way to prevent injury, especially among women and other at-risk groups, is to stabilize ankles during exercise. Be sure you select a lightweight brace that’s comfortable and easy to wear. The best brace and most supportive brace in the world does absolutely no good if it’s in the drawer instead of on your ankle.
Many ankle injuries begin in the thigh, knee, or some other part of the body. Eventually, problems in these areas affect the vulnerable ankle. Other times, perhaps due to an injury or weakness in one leg, runners overcompensate and put too much pressure on the other ankle. The bones, muscles, and/or ligaments simply cannot take the extra stress.
Post-run stretching goes a long way towards preventing these issues. Some light stretching is a good idea before you run, but save the deep stretches for later when your body is already warm. There are about a zillion different exercises and all are pretty good, so the key is to find a routine that works for you and adhere to it religiously.
Strengthen Your Ankles
If these joints sometimes feel soft or sore after walking, climbing stairs, or other everyday activities, they may be biologically weak. Typically, the cause is genetic. Weak ankles increase injury risk almost exponentially, but this problem is also easy to address.
To improve strength, wrap a towel or brace as tightly as possible around the ankle. That resistance strengthens the muscles. Ankle weights, which are essentially three or four-pound ankle bracelets, are available as well.
Take It Easy
Making the transition from weekend warrior to regular fitness runner is a good thing. Increasing your mileage is even better. But sudden activity increases put people at risk for a variety of ankle injuries, most notably shin splints. These bursts are especially common when people begin fitness routines, largely because they are excited and naturally want to push themselves.
The ten-percent principle is no more than a rule of thumb, but it’s a good one. Try to limit activity increases to ten percent every two weeks. The gradual acceleration puts less stress on your ankles. If you have a consistent bracing and stretching regimen, you can probably push the ten-percent rule a little more.
To get the best results from your fitness routine, take some time to care for your ankles.