Enjoy hiking or a jaunt on a trail? Great! I don’t think I have to tell you that running or hiking on trails raises the challenge compared to a level surface or treadmill. Uneven or variable terrain challenges the stability and strength of your feet and ankles. Ligaments on the medial and lateral aspects need to be strong to keep your joints in the right place.
But what if you have a history of “rolling your ankle?” It’s even more important that you have strong muscles in your feet and ankles to account for laxity in ligaments. Once a ligament has been sprained, stretched, or torn, it does not heal well. Pain improves but our ligaments are avascular – they don’t have their own blood supply, and they are not elastic like tendons are. Once a ligament has been sprained or stretched, especially in the ankle, instability is going to be a tough thing to overcome.
The easiest exercise to help this is calf (or heel) raises – go up to the balls of your feet, then back down. I prescribe them in three different angles: perform 12-15 with your toes pointed forward, then 12-15 with your toes pointed out, then 12-15 with your toes pointed in. Each angle helps recruit other muscles that control the movement of your ankle.
The next exercises I like to prescribe are for balance. I love training people to improve their balance! Even if you’re young, healthy, and not a fall risk, practicing balance exercises can only do your ankles good. Balance is about far more than standing on one foot, however, but this is the easiest place to start. When you balance on one foot, hold your opposite foot out in front, not touching your opposite leg, so that your stance leg has does the stabilizing. You will feel your ankle muscles correcting slightly to help control your sway. Aim to hold it for 30 seconds, then switch. Too easy? Stand on a couch cushion, or the blue surface of a Bosu ball. Changing the surface will increase the challenge and improve your body’s balance reactions to unstable surfaces, much like what you will need while hiking.
As a bonus, I sometimes will challenge someone’s balance at the end of a session when fatigue has set in, so I can assess their stability in a safe environment. Wouldn’t you like to know your ankles can still hold you up, without rolling, after a long day of hiking? Try this: go for a run or walk on a relatively easy surface, then do your calf raises and practice balancing. Is it easier or harder after a workout?
As with any of these posts, please contact us if you have a history of ankle sprains or foot trouble and would like to go hiking this spring and summer! We’re always here to get you back to your sport-of-choice, strong and pain-free.