When was the last time you thought about your ankles?
Unless you’ve had an injury, you probably don’t give your ankles much thought at all.
Have you ever wondered why we have ankles? What do they do, exactly?
Most of us would probably answer that the ankle has something to do with locomotion...can you imagine trying to walk without ankle joints?
Besides helping to provide us with the ability to do things like walk, run, jump and dance, the ankles have some other important functions.
The ankle plays a significant role in something called proprioception – the sense of a joint’s position in 3-dimensional space. Proprioception provides the ankle with the ability to react correctly and adapt to avoid injury.
All of our movements require proprioception and balance, resulting in the ability to control our joints efficiently and smoothly through their full range of motion. Another word for this combination of proprioception and balance is agility.
Every time we take a step, a complex series of systems provides us with the ability to absorb energy through our body – the ankle and lower leg provide a significant portion of this. When the ankle is healthy, potential damage to the knees, hips and spine are avoided.
The ankle joint proper is a series of joints between the tibia [large lower leg bone], the fibula [small lower leg bone on the outside], sitting atop the talus bone, and provides the up/down motion of the foot. Beneath this joint is another joint that provides side to side motion.
Surrounding the bones of the ankle is an intricate series of connective tissue that provides motion and stability.
When there is an injury to the ankle complex, whether this is in the form of a fracture or connective tissue disruption, strength, mobility, balance, and agility are all impacted.
Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports and general population injuries, accounting for over 1 million health care visits per year. In addition to the financial costs, ankle sprains also result in time lost from work and recreation, and potential long-term disability in some cases.
The best method for prevention of ankle sprains is to work on balance and proprioceptive training, particularly if you’ve previously sustained an ankle sprain – this puts you at a much higher risk for another injury.
Here’s a simple balance exercise: without shoes, stand on one leg and balance for 30 seconds. If you need to hang on to something, use as little support as possible. Align your pelvis and spine in a neutral position, and keep your knee aligned and relaxed. Repeat on the other leg. Once you can do this easily, without hand support, increase to 1 minute. When you can balance for one minute unassisted, see if you can balance for 30 seconds with your eyes closed [stay close to a chair or wall for support!]. Do this balance exercise daily…I recommend doing this exercise when you brush your teeth.
Keep your ankles healthy and you’ll stay active, mobile, full of vitality, and independent!