Pritchard: The ankle is a crucial yet often overlooked joint (column)
Better Version of You
An often overlooked but extremely important joint in our bodies is the ankle, particularly when engaging in sporting or exercise activity.
Our ankles allow us to maintain a normal gait cycle while stabilizing our bodies through endless static and dynamic actions.
It is of utmost importance to maintain adequate ankle mobility and strength if we wish to maintain an active lifestyle. Unfortunately, however, it is one of the most commonly injured joints within the human body.
Anatomically speaking, the ankle joint is comprised of the tibia (shin bone), the fibula (calf bone) and the talus (ankle bone). Numerous ligaments then connect these structures in addition to tarsal bones which provide dorsiflexion (bringing toes towards the shin), plantarflexion (pointing toes away from shin), inversion (foot upward and ankle inward), and eversion (ankle outward).
It is clear that nearly every step, shuffle or hop we take involves some level of ankle mobility. If the movement happens to be relatively high force and or require greater mobility than one may possess, bad things can happen. Either the ankle structure itself will be damaged, or some other joint further along the kinetic chain will bear the brunt of it. It is not uncommon to see those who lack adequate ankle mobility injure their knee or hip to some degree.
According to the journal Physician and Sportsmedicine, ankle problems account for nearly 25% of all sport-related injuries. Furthermore, in 2015, there were reports of approximately 23,000 ankle injuries daily within the United States alone.
A number of factors can contribute to the occurrence of an ankle injury, including poor technique, poor physical conditioning, high-risk sports, uneven surfaces, improper footwear and previous ankle injury. One cannot eliminate the risk of ankle injury altogether, as even the most well-prepared athletes in the world sustain injuries as the result of unlucky circumstance such as poor weather conditions, poor playing surface or uneven terrain.
As with any other joint in our body, we can only ensure that we have adequate range of motion, but we can also strengthen it along with its supporting structures to increase safety. Most health care and sports-medicine professionals call this “prehabilitation” or increasing resiliency.
What Can You Do?
While the chances that you have or will sustain some type of ankle injury in your life are extremely high, there are some things you can do to minimize the risk. If you’ve severely injured your ankle or have a recurring issue, you’re better off consulting a health care provider who can ensure you get the proper help. Ankle injuries are not something you should try and self-diagnose because the likelihood that you will reinjure it even after you believe you’ve healed are extremely high.
If you’re relatively healthy and have never suffered a traumatic ankle injury, you can work on maintaining adequate mobility, and there are several strengthening exercises that can help. An excellent way to work on your dorsiflexion, particularly for a squat position, is to do a half kneeling exercise in front of the wall in which one foot is flat and approximately a fist length away from the wall. From that position, attempt to drive your knee forward towards the wall ensuring that your knee is not collapsing inward and your entire foot is remaining flat on the floor.
In addition to addressing your dorsiflexion, you could do calf raise variations for plantar flexion and do band resisted inversion/eversion exercises while seated. These may be difficult to understand in text, but a simple YouTube search of these exercises will provide a library of demonstrations.
Alongside these small single-joint exercises, you could sprinkle in balance work (i.e. standing on one leg for time with eyes closed), small plyometrics (hops, skips, broad jumps, etc.) and perhaps most importantly, large compound movements such as a squat or lunge. Training in a multi-directional fashion, attempting to increase not only structural soundness of the ankle joint but better body awareness, will also reduce the likelihood of an injury.
All in all, there is an inherent risk to any activity we engage in, but that should not stop us from participating in the things we love. A scarcity mindset is no way to live your life, but an informed and proactive one is. Take care of your body and keep being active.
Jimmy Pritchard has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website, http://www.pritchardperformance.com
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