First off, let's break down some basics: Your ankle is a joint that connects the bones in your lower leg to the ones in your feet. More specifically, it connects your tibia, fibia, and talus. These bones are attached by ligaments or tough bands of tissue that stabilize joints and prevent excessive movement. There are a few kinds of connective tissue in our bodies: tendons connect muscle to bone, fasciae join muscle to muscle, and ligaments connect bone to bone, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ligaments, however, aren't as flexible as our muscles.
Additionally, ligaments are hypocellular and hypovascular, which means they have fewer cells and blood cells than soft tissue like your muscles or even your bones. They don't heal as quickly. So when you twist your ankle, the ligaments surrounding the ankle take the most significant blow. As a result, they become weak, according to Christina Hector, DO, attending sports medicine physician at Onyx Direct Care.
This weakness can lead to repeated twists. If you're stuck in this cycle, the solution is to rest, recover, and follow your doctor's treatment plan so that you heal once and for all. And, to prevent further injuries from occurring, Hans Pirman, strongman coach and owner Global Strongman Gym in Brooklyn, New York, recommends a few stretches and strength exercises to protect your ankle from damage.
Alphabet ankle: While you lay down or sit in a chair, spell the alphabet with each foot in the air. This can help with ankle stretching, strength, and dexterity, Dr. Hector says.
Wall calf stretch: While standing, place your toes on the wall with your heel on the ground. Your foot should be at an upward angle. You will feel a stretch in your calf. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on each side two to three times, Pirman says.
Standing heel stretch: Stand on the edge of a sidewalk, somewhere your heels can hang off the surface slightly. Hold on to a sturdy object like a railing or pole and slowly lower, stretching down into your heel and then raise your heel back up, Pirman adds. Repeat on the other side and do three sets of 10.
Calf Stretch: Lay on your back, take a towel or yoga strap, and put it around your foot. Hold both ends of the strap and press into it with your foot. Flex your foot and pull on the strap gently, so you feel like you are sticking your heel out and bringing your toes towards you, says Hector. You should feel a stretch in the back of your calf.
Standing calf raises: stand at the edge of a step and rise to your tiptoes. Return down slowly and repeat. Try to do three sets of 10. If you want to make this more challenging, you can hold a dumbbell while you do it, Pirman says.
Before adding ankle stretches, make sure that you don't have an active injury and that your doctor has cleared you to exercise. Provided all is well, Dr. Hector explains that strength and flexibility are great ways to prevent injury in the body. This is especially true for ankle ligaments, given how an injury affects their strength.
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