Ankles: they get so little attention, yet they do so much. Strong, flexible ankles allow you to walk, run, jump, and dance. But should this humble joint start grumbling, you'll find that just getting around the house can be agony.
"It's important to recognize that sore ankles happen for many reasons," says Alexandra Page, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson who specializes in foot and ankle surgery.
Ankle sprains are common—about 25,000 everyday. If you think you've suffered one, see a doctor and avoid activity until you've healed.
What if you don't have a sprain but your ankle really hurts? Follow this advice from orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist David Geier, MD:
"Have an injury checked out if it's limiting you from doing what you want to do." If you feel pain in one of the bones, for example, you could have a stress fracture, says Geier. Continuing to train could make the injury worse.
Tendonitis and arthritis are two common sources of ankle pain that you may be able to manage through diligent stretching and strengthening. To address these concerns—and to help prevent ankle trouble in the first place—these 5 simple, effective exercises will keep your ankles happy.
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1. Peroneal Stretching/Strengthening
The peroneal tendons run along the outside of the ankle, and they're crucial for strength and support, says Page. For athletes—particularly runners, dancers, and those who play ball sports, she recommend spending a minute to warm up these tendons.
The move is simple: Gently roll onto the outside of your feet and walk around for 60 seconds. This helps with flexibility and strength, Page says. "This also improves proprioception—awareness of where your ankle is and what it's doing—which can help prevent ankle sprains."
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2. Ankle Circles
This move will strengthen the muscles in and around your ankle, improving the joint's stability. Sit on a chair and extend your right leg, knee straight. Move your right foot clockwise 10 to 20 times, rest your leg for 5 seconds, and raise it again and move your foot counterclockwise the same number of reps. Alternate legs, doing 3 to 4 sets per side.
You can add some variety to this move, says Paula Xavier, a trainer with NYC's Naturally Intense studio and three-time Best of Manhattan Awards winner for personal training. Try moving your foot up and down (as if pressing a gas pedal), or from side to side (like windshield wipers). These moves will help improve your range of motion. Again, 10 to 20 reps for 3 to 4 sets.