One area that is rarely targeted specifically is the ankle. Whether you are an endurance athlete, roller derby athlete, or none of the above, creeping ankle pain can be prevented and reversed using proper mobility and strengthening exercises.
This is a crucial area, no matter what your sport your ankles are going to be taking a beating. To keep your ankles healthy and stable means being able to race or compete for years to come.
For a lot of runners ankle stability is no problem. All of the time spent propelling us with one foot will help to build the strength needed to prevent injury.
However, one area that is often ignored in this group of athletes is mobilization. This is the reason most runners can’t get into a proper squat position without their heels coming up off the ground.
The tightness in the calves translates down the ankles (and sometimes the knees). So mobilizing this area, as well as the plantar fascia area, is going to be crucial.
This sport has such a high injury rate, and many of them come from ankle instability.
When on skates it is essential that the ankles are stable, strong, and able to move freely. Without these three factors the likelihood of injury is going to increase substantially.
This is one group that I would suggest work on this area at least 2-3 times per week.
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Step 1- Warm Up
The first step in working on anything is going to be warming up the targeted area. To prevent further injury, we want to make sure we have done a proper warm up to release the synovial fluid within the joint. This is your joints’ natural lubricant.
We create a change in range of motion when we move to the mobilization process. It will help us to get into the deep stretches.
We want to specifically target the ankle area when warming up. For this reason simple walking or a light jog will be great for a warm up.
Once the walk or jog is done some body weight strength exercises will also help to warm the muscles up around the joint.
We want to make sure the muscles are nice and warm to increase our ability to stretch.
Step 2- Mobilize
You will then want to mobilize the target area. Any restriction in range of motion could be causing pain in the joint, or referred pain, pain away from the joint.
For example, when range of the motion in the ankle is limited there might be pain in the knee.
Not everyone will have a range of motion restriction. If your range of motion is fine in this area you may want to spend more time strengthening and stabilizing.
As stated previously, runners often have a mobility problem with this area. After running many miles at a certain range of motion your body begins to adapt and shorten the muscles surrounding the joint to the specific range being used.
There will be two modalities to this mobilization process – static stretching and soft tissue release.
Both will be more beneficial when coupled together than when used alone.
Static stretching is the typical type of stretching where one gets to the end range of motion and holds for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Soft tissue release is also known as myofascial release. This will be using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or some other tool to actually massage the muscle, relieving the tension.
Three exercises that will be perfect to mobilize the area below and above the ankle are:
1. Calf Wall Stretch
2. Lacrosse Ball Plantar Fascia Stretch
3. Calf Foam Roller
Step 3- Strengthen & Stabilize
Now, once you are able to move freely in this range of motion, you want to make sure the muscles surrounding your ankles are strong.
In order to stabilize this joint we will strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint. This will be the key to preventing injury from rolled and sprained ankles.
This is going to be especially important for anybody over the age of 30. Once at that age (and beyond), stability begins to become an issue. If not addressed, strength and stability begin to decline, usually leading to higher chances of injury as time goes on.
This will include various plyometric and strength training exercises. Unilateral or one sided exercises will be especially beneficial in order to work on the smaller muscles that work when in an unstable position.
Plyometric exercises will help to force your body to use those small stability muscles in an explosive, controlled fashion.
The principle of specificity will be used here again. We want to strengthen the muscles in the specific plane of motion they are used in.
That is one reason it can slightly vary between athletes and their sports.
Here is a list of plyometric and unilateral exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the ankle joint:
1. One leg Squats
3. Step Ups
1. Jump Squats
2. Jump Lunges
3. Jumping Jack