What's in the ankle?
A physically active body must achieve a stable balance around each active joint for top performance. Ligaments connect the bones to each other, and provide much of the joint's stability. Muscles are connected to bone by tendons, allowing for movement at the joints.
Although the ligaments connecting the bones in the ankle are necessary for proper function, there are several muscles that also help support the ankle during any type of activity. Building strength and proprioception, or special awareness, in these muscles helps to prevent injury and improve performance.
Why is it important to keep the ankle strong?
When an athlete performs any movement--whether running or jumping--the ankle and surrounding muscles are put under a great deal of stress. If the ankle musculature is strong, the athlete can withstand greater force before an injury is sustained. In addition to decreasing ankle injuries, strengthening lower leg muscles will help prevent chronic conditions such as shin splints and Achilles tendonitis.
Proprioception is the body's ability to realize its place in space. If an athlete is moving into a position that could sprain his or her ankle, increased proprioception can decrease the risk by alerting the athlete to the danger. Proprioception can also increase an athlete's performance. An athlete with superior balance and awareness will be able to control his or her body more effectively. This is especially true in sports like basketball and soccer, but valuable in all sports or training. Proprioceptive training is done with balance exercises.
- Standing on one leg: Hold for 30 seconds, working up to one minute per leg.
- Balance and catch: Standing on one leg, catch and throw a ball with a partner. Make certain to throw the ball right, left, high, low. Perform three sets of 30.
- One leg mini squats: On one leg do a half squat with the opposite leg out front for 10 reps, out to the side for 10 reps and behind for 10 reps. Repeat three times.
The ankle can be strengthened in several ways. The first exercise uses thera-band for resisted range of motion. Thera-band can be purchased at a medical supply store. When performing the following exercises, place the band around the top of the foot and curl the toes at the end of the movement to work the internal muscles of the foot. Perform three sets of 20 in each direction.