Ankle and foot injuries can seriously inhibit everyday function and fitness activities. What's worse, they’re extremely common. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, especially in the context of running or playing sports; the stress placed on each foot may be 1.25 times our body weight when walking, experts say, and 2.75 times our body weight when running. That means that a tiny mistake in placement can lead to a seriously strained or sprained ankle (these are the most common types of ankle injuries, accounting for roughly 60% of all foot and ankle problems among Canadians older than 17).
So what can you do about injuries to the ankle? If you’ve already hurt yourself, you’ll want to see a podiatrist—that’s an ankle and foot doctor—as soon as possible. But there are also many things you can do to lower your likelihood of getting an ankle injury in the first place. Here are five:
1. Wear New, Supportive Shoes
Podiatrists tell their patients this time and time again, but it’s still true: wearing properly fitted athletic shoes is one of the biggest factors in reducing injuries to the ankle (as well as other common problems experienced by athletes, such as Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis). And while it’s obviously impossible to always have brand new shoes, you don’t want to completely run your shoes into the ground. Shoes with worn heels, in particular, can lead to ankle problems.
2. Warm Up - Every Single Time
Never skip your warm-up and stretching routine before running or playing a sport, even if you’re not planning a particularly strenuous day. Doing some mobility exercises in the morning can’t hurt either.
3. Strengthen Your Ankle Muscles
Your feet may have about a quarter of the bones in your body, but it’s your ligaments and muscles that tend to get injured (injuries to the former being called sprains, and injuries to the latter being called strains). Try to work on your ankle strength in small ways every single day. Even just tracing the alphabet in cursive with your foot—going through all the capital letters with your feet and toes while keeping the lower leg still and can be done as you type away at your desk or watch television. Resistance bands can also be an excellent training tool.
4. Do Regular Balance Training
Balance is connected to your body’s ability to control itself even when in unlikely positions, which in turn lowers the likelihood of you getting injured when you hit some uneven ground or try to run on hills. Work on your balance by standing on one foot while you do everyday tasks such as folding laundry or brushing your teeth.
5. Tape or Brace as Necessary
Not all podiatrists and sports medicine professionals are on the same page when it comes to using tape or braces to protect ankles from injury, but at the very least these can be helpful when you’re retraining after an injury, lowering your likelihood of re-injuring yourself.