The ankle is put under pressure by everything from running to weight training to MMA, and its ligaments are prone to acute injury, especially in sports involving explosive movement. Overuse injuries are common in runners, but most ankle problems – including those highlighted here – can be prevented by improving your strength and balance around the joint and lower limb.
1. Ankle sprain
‘Lateral sprains are the most common ankle injury,’ says Rice. ‘They’re caused when your foot is rapidly forced into an inverted position, stretching or tearing a combination of the three ligaments that support the outside of the ankle.’
Prevent it ‘Calf strength and balance exercises can be effective. Warm up the ankle muscles around your ankle using a Bosu ball. Stand on it on one leg with your eyes closed or hop on and off it. Focus on making a soft landing.’
2. Achilles tendinitis
‘The achilles tendon attaches two powerful calf muscles to the back of the ankle. Because of poor blood supply, tendons don’t respond well to rapid changes in loading and this can result in a painful condition known as tendinitis or even rupture. It’s common when starting a running programme that progresses too quickly or in sports requiring lots of jumping and landing.’
Prevent it ‘Progress the load on it slowly, especially when starting plyometrics. Adding isometric exercises, such as holding the top and bottom of a calf raise, can help.’
3. Plantar fasciitis
‘This foot injury is characterised by stiffness and sharp pain around your heel and arch in the morning and after sitting for prolonged periods. It occurs when too much stress is put on the tissue on the sole of the foot, causing it to pull away from its bony attachment at the heel.’
Prevent it ‘Work on your calf flexibility with foam rolling and stretching. If you notice the symptoms above, freeze a bottle of water and roll it under the sole of your foot. Supportive footwear, rather than minimalist, will help, and you should avoid walking barefoot too.’
4. Medial tibial stress syndrome
‘This is better known as shin splints. Actually, MTSS is the name for a group of conditions that affect the lower leg. They’re often caused when people start a running programme with inadequate rest days. Another cause is not absorbing force well when you land from jumps.’
Prevent it ‘Always land softly, cushioning impact by bending your knees and hips. Check your ankle range of movement with this test: stand facing a wall and with your foot flat, lunge forward so your knee touches the wall. Aim for at least 10cm between your toes and the wall. If you find you need to be closer, your calf muscles are tight, so roll each of them for five minutes every day.’
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