We can sometimes take our ankles for granted, in getting us round that marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, or even just around the block. However, an ankle sprain can be both painful and frustrating if it hinders our regular training. An accidental sprain may be unavoidable, but some sprains may occur through a weakness or instability of the ankles. This is where we can be proactive and take steps to guard against such sprains.
Basic Ankle Anatomy
The ankle comprises bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves and blood vessels.
The ankle joint is formed by the connection of three bones, namely the talus, tibia and fibula. The bottom of the talus sits on the calcaneus, the top of the talus sits under the tibia and fibula. The talus works like a hinge, enabling the foot to move up and down.
The ligaments and tendons are connective tissue, the ligaments connecting bone to bone and the tendons connecting bone to muscle. Various tendons connect the muscles of the calf to the bones comprising the ankle and foot.
Weakness and instability of the ankles, or overtraining, can lead to ankle sprains, of which there are two types:
- Inversion, where the foot collapses inwards, leading to overstretching or tearing of the outer ligaments
- Eversion, where the foot is twisted outwards, leading to overstretching or tearing of the inner ligaments.
A sprain is typically painful and the ankle can become swollen and show bruising. To treat a sprained ankle you can use the RICE method, comprising Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Do not put ice directly on to the skin of the affected area. An ankle support, providing some compression, can help recovery and give you some confidence to get around during the healing period. Elevation will help to drain away old blood and send new blood to the area for healing.
If you have a persistent ankle problem you could consider seeing a physiotherapist and/or a podiatrist. If you are local to our Cardiff shop you can visit our Sports Injury and Physiotherapy Clinic. For Edinburgh based runners visit our Sports Clinic there. Or Londoners can visit our in-store London Physiotherapy.
Once you have recovered from an ankle sprain, or if you have not sustained an ankle sprain and want to strengthen and condition your ankles, you can think about incorporating some ankle-strengthening exercises into your training regime.
Tight calf muscles can be a contributory factor to straining or spraining your ankles, so make sure you stretch out your calves. See the calf stretches in this video.
In addition to the above, you can try the following:
- Stand on one leg and swing your other leg forwards and backwards a few times, and side to side a few times.
- At the same time swing your arms to and fro, or side to side, to help you balance.
- Incidentally, this is a good exercise for coordination too!
Calf raises can be helpful in strengthening your ankles. Standing on a flat surface, go up on to the balls of your feet, and then go back down. Then stand on one leg and go up on to the ball of that foot. Then change to the other foot.
You can also do calf raises where you stand half on, and half off, a step, going up on to the balls of your feet and then dropping back down a little below the step. Be careful to listen to your body and not overdo it! Check out the same video cited above.
Have you ever used a wobble board? It can be an excellent tool for developing more stability, not only for your ankles but also your core and your whole body.
If you are unsure which exercises would be best for you and how many repetitions of each exercise you should do, think about enlisting the help of a personal trainer. They can tailor a strength and conditioning programme to your needs, and help you with motivation too! In our Cardiff shop we have a personal trainer on hand.
In some cases of injury the culprit can be our running shoes. Road running shoes fall into different categories: neutral, support, motion control, also minimal and zero drop. Everyone has a running gait which would also fall into a certain category.
Your specialist running shop can help you find a match for your gait. Check out our Natural Gait Analysis service. A running shoe which allows too much overpronation (inward turning) or supination (outward turning) of the foot could contribute to a sprain.
If you are unfortunate enough to suffer an ankle sprain there are ways to encourage the ankle’s recovery, and there are also ways to strengthen and condition your ankles, to give you the best chance of preventing any sprains and enable you to run more strongly, more confidently, and more happily.