Ankle Sprains are a very common type of injury for runners, especially trail runners. But even for road runners, it does happen as well when stepping on a rock, uneven terrain, holes or unexpected curbs. On the trail when running on technical trail, downhill or even on flat trail, ankle sprain happens often. It also happens often on flat and non-technical terrain once our brain relaxes, and we’re not paying attention to the ground. Our brain needs to be connected to our main muscles which we put a lot of impact on, such as our ankles, feet, calf muscles, glutes, core. Keeping our brain connected to these muscles will keep us strong and stable and prevent injuries. Also, if our brain isn’t aware of how our ankle should react, we’re most likely to trip over a rock, or branch or downhill and roll our ankle. Once we get injured or weakened our ankle due to other injuries, 80% of all ankle sprains come from previous injuries. And up to 20% of all sports injuries are ankle sprains. According to our lifestyle and training plans, if other parts of our body and muscles or our feet are weaker, this will increase the risk of ankle sprain. With the current type of lifestyle, sitting down for hours for online work, our feet and other muscles supporting our ankles are much weaker.
The ankle’s physiology is one reason why inversion injuries are so common. The inside of the ankle is much more stable than the outside, especially when the toe is pointed (plantar flexed). The most common type of ankle sprain involves the ligaments on the lateral (outside) of the ankle. This type of injury, happens most often by rolling the ankle inwards, or stepping on a rock while running, which can damage one or all three ligaments, and even fracture the ankle bone (fibula).
Single-Leg Balance Test
To prevent any type of ankle or foot injury while running, to perform a single-leg balance test is a reliable way to predict the possibility of future ankle sprains.
1. Stand barefoot on a flat surface.
2. Balance on one foot with the opposite leg bent without touching the weight-bearing leg.
3. Focus the eyes on a target, then close them for 10 seconds.
4. Perform on both sides.
If you feel any imbalance, or your foot moves on the floor, the arms move, the legs or foot touch down, the test failed and confirms your foot weakness.
How to Prevent Ankle Sprains
When we get the test result that our ankles are weak or dysfunctional, we can reduce the risk of injury or re-injury by strengthening our feet and ankles, taping, bracing and stretching the targeted joint. Another important option to prevent an ankle injury is wearing the proper shoes. Wearing high cushioning trail shoes are very comfortable, but our feet are farther from the ground, causing less stability, and increasing the risk of rolling our ankle. Wearing shoes that still have good cushioning but that are more stable and lower to the ground, will add less stress on the weaker lateral (outside) part of the ankle. And to wear the right type of shoes according to our foot type and structure will prevent feet and ankle injuries.
Foot Strengthening Exercises
Before performing these exercises, roll out the bottom of the foot with a small golf ball.
1. Toe Spread
What it does: Strengthens the small muscles in the toes and improves balance.
How to do it: Place a thick rubber band around your toes. While seated, try to spread your toes apart. Hold for five seconds, and repeat 10 times on each foot.
2. Calf Drops
What it does: Tones and strengthens the calves.
How to do it: Stand with the balls of your feet on a step or stair, and let your heels hang over. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, hold and then lower back down. Repeat 10 to 12 times.
3. Plantar Stretch
What it does: Relieves arch pain.
How to do it: Sit down in a chair and cross your right leg so your ankle sits on your left thigh. Bend your right foot's toes back toward your shin and hold. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
4. Toe "Lifts"
What it does: Strengthens muscles in the lower leg.
How to do it: Pick up a marble, small stone or small ball with your toes and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat twice, and switch feet.
Variation: Place 10 marbles on the floor and pick them up one at a time with your toes and place in a small cup nearby. Repeat twice with each foot.
5. Toe Spelling
What it does: Stretches the plantar fascia.
How to do it: One foot at a time, slowly write the alphabet with your toes.
6. Towel Curls
What it does: Strengthens the feet.
How to do it: Drop a small towel on the floor. Sit in a chair and pull the towel toward you using your toes. Push the towel back to its start position and repeat for three sets of 10.
7. Heel/Toe Walks
What it does: Strengthens muscles in the shins, ankles and feet.
How to do it: Flex your feet and balance to walk on your heels. Walk forward as far as you can for up to one minute. Rest and repeat two more times. Switch to walking on your toes, and walk forward for up to one minute. Rest and repeat two more times.
8. Standing on a Single Leg on a Stability Disc or Bosu Ball
What it does: Strengthens the glutes, foot, core, and improves foot strength and balance.
How to do it: Stand on a Stability Disc or Bosu ball on a single leg to try to stay balanced. As you progress, try to do single leg deadlifts or single leg squats. Perform for 30-60 secs on each side.
9. Calf Stretch
What it does: Relieves foot, shin and heel pain; helps with Achilles Tendonitis and Plantar Fasciitis.
How to do it: Face a wall and keep your heels on the ground. Stretch your arms for support against a wall. Take a step backward with one leg. Bend the front knee and keep your back leg straight. Lean forward slightly, and push your back heel into the ground. Switch legs.
Ankle Support for Running
While running, to support and keep the the ligaments, muscles, tendons, and bones stable, the best options are sports taping or wearing an ankle brace with compression.
1. KT Tape Ankle Stability Sports Tape Video:
2. Ankle Support Sport Braces with Compression
Strengthen and Mobilize the Feet and Ankles, Run with Great Stability, Avoid Injuries, Feel Great and Enjoy Every Run!