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Ankles: they get so little attention, yet they do so much. Strong, flexible ankles allow you to walk, run, jump, and dance. But should this humble joint start grumbling, you’ll find that just getting around the house can be agony. (Lose up to 13 pounds in less than 2 weeks with this simple liver detox plan.)
“It’s important to recognize that sore ankles happen for many reasons,” says Alexandra Page, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson who specializes in foot and ankle surgery. Ankle sprains are common—about 25,000 every day! If you think you’ve suffered one, see a doctor and avoid activity until you’ve healed.
What if you don’t have a sprain, but your ankle really smarts? Follow this advice from orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist David Geier, MD: “Have an injury checked out if it’s limiting you from doing what you want to do.” If you feel pain in one of the bones, for example, you could have a stress fracture, says Geier. Continuing to train could make the injury worse.
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Tendonitis and arthritis are two common sources of ankle pain that you may be able to manage through diligent stretching and strengthening. To address these concerns—and to help prevent ankle trouble in the first place—these 5 simple, effective exercises will keep your ankles happy.
The peroneal tendons run along the outside of the ankle, and they’re crucial for strength and support, says Page. For athletes—particularly runners, dancers, and those who play ball sports—she recommends spending a minute to warm up these tendons. The move is simple: Gently roll your feet outward and walk around on the outside edges of your feet for 60 seconds. This helps with flexibility and strength, Page says. “This also improves proprioception—awareness of where your ankle is and what it’s doing—which can help prevent ankle sprains.”
This move will strengthen the muscles in and around your ankle, improving the joint’s stability. Sit on a chair and extend your right leg, knee straight. Move your right foot clockwise 10 to 20 times, rest your leg for 5 seconds, and raise it again and move your foot counterclockwise the same number of reps. Alternate legs, doing 3 to 4 sets per side.
You can add some variety to this move, says Paula Xavier, a trainer with NYC’s Naturally Intense studio and three-time winner of a Best of Manhattan Award for personal training. Try moving your foot up and down (as if pressing a gas pedal) or from side to side (like windshield wipers). These moves will help improve your range of motion. Again, 10 to 20 reps for 3 to 4 sets.
It’s a big word, but dorsiflexion simply means bringing your toes closer to your shin. This stretch will help protect the muscles and tendons in your ankle. Sit on the floor with your right leg straight, the left bent in front of you, knee on the floor. The sole of your left foot should rest against the inside of your right leg. Place a towel or band around the ball of the right foot and gently pull your toes back toward you. You’ll feel the stretch in your thigh, calf, and Achilles tendon, says Xavier. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch 4 times, then switch legs. “This shouldn’t feel painful,” Xavier warns. “It should be a mild to moderate stretch.”
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Write the alphabet
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Tracing out the alphabet with your big toe is a challenging strength exercise for your ankle, says Xavier. Sit in a chair and hold your right leg straight out in front. Using your big toe as the “pen,” write the alphabet in all capital letters first, then repeat the process with lowercase letters; switch feet and repeat.
Page warns that age-related changes in the Achilles tendon can raise the risk of rupturing this big tendon at the back of your ankle. By doing regular Achilles stretches, you can improve its flexibility. From a standing position, step back with one leg, keeping that back leg straight (grounding the heel), and pushing the hips forward while bending the knee of the front leg at about a 45-degree angle. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and switch legs; repeat 2 to 4 sets on each leg.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
This article ‘Your 5-Step Cure For Bad Ankles’ originally ran on Prevention.com.
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