Those that know me will have heard the violins ringing out many a-time whilst I talk about my ankle injury. I can’t help it, it changed my life (sounds dramatic huh!?). I limped off the football pitch at 22 and 3 operations later my impact sports ‘career’ was over.
It wasn’t like it was my job, but it was a real passion. Not being able to play the sport you love was pretty depressing but it was no excuse. I maintained fitness through upper body resistance work and any cardio that didn’t affect my ankle. You adapt and keep going, you have to.
Ankle injuries are common, all of us will have sprained their ankle at some point and most recover with ice and rest in time. I had what’s known as an inversion injury- in my case the result of a late but typical Sunday morning tackle! This didn’t heal correctly and led to various other injuries.
Our ankles are amongst the most important joints in our body; they support our entire bodyweight, allow sudden directional changes, provide balance and help us to generate the force to run, jump, squat. Without them we’d lose stability, speed and power; three key components of competitive sport.
But how can we prevent ankle injuries? In short we can’t but we can do our best to strengthen the joint and increase flexibility of the surrounding muscles maximise the range of movement.
If you have weak ankles or a tendency to sprain them easily then it is worth doing a couple of ankle specific exercises 2-3 times per week.
Here is my recommended ankle workout that can be done at home;
- Place a pillow on the floor and stand on it on one leg. Start by just trying to stay completely still for a minute at a time. Switch legs. Progress by holding a ball and passing it around/under/over your body to make your balance more challenging.
- Sit down on a chair and flex your foot up (plantar flexion) and down (dorsi flexion) and from side to side. 10-15 repetitions each direction, 2 sets. Progress by adding a resistance band wrapped around a chair leg for example.
- Calf raises off a step. Use the bottom stair and support your weight with the balls of your feet, heels off the step. Lower heels then push up onto your toes. Repeat. 15-20 reps, 2 sets.
- Stretch off the calf and soleus muscles. 20-30 seconds each muscle, 3 sets.
Soleus stretch, left leg (left). Notice the knee on the leg being stretched is bent.
Calf stretch, left leg (right). Notice the leg being stretched is straight.
Using the exercise bike and swimming were my preferred method of maintaining CV fitness whilst I couldn’t do any impact exercise. Your ankles are fixed on the bike and with swimming you are performing plantar flexion and dorsi flexion whilst kicking you legs (front crawl) therefore strengthening the surrounding ligaments/ muscles.