Weak and wobbling ankles can bring you down to the ground in a hurry—both figuratively and literally.
Ankles are critically important when it comes to keeping you stable, active, and pain free. You don’t have to be a high-performance athlete. Everyone who can stand or walk depends on strong ankles every day.
Unfortunately, ankles can weaken and lose that strength and support for a variety of reasons:
- Maybe you’re in the immediate stages of recovery after a sprain or surgery, and now it’s time to focus on rehab.
- Maybe you had a bad sprain in the past, or a number of sprains, that never really healed properly in the first place.
- Maybe your ankle strength has simply deteriorated over time due to factors such as aging, arthritis, and decreasing activity levels.
Regardless of how you arrived at your current predicament, exercise is almost certainly going to be an important part of your ankle rehab program. Regular exercise of the ankle joint provides many benefits: reduced stiffness; improved range of motion; stronger supporting muscles, ligaments and tendons; improved balance; reduced wobbliness and fall risk.
Exercises to Stabilize Weak Ankles
Although we don’t recommend you begin any new exercise plan without checking in with us first, here are a handful of exercises that we often find to be beneficial for strengthening ankles.
Do your ABCs. “Writing out” the alphabet with your big toe is actually a great way to improve strength, control, and range of motion in your ankle joint. Sit in a chair with your leg straight out in front of you. Using your big toe as your imaginary pen, write out the alphabet twice—uppercase and lowercase to make it interesting! Then switch feet.
Balance. Simple balance exercises not only strengthen the supporting and stabilizing muscles surrounding your ankles, but they also improve your proprioception—in other words, your body’s ability to “know” its position in space.
Standing on one leg is one of the easiest and best ways to do this, and the great thing about it is that you can adjust the challenge level based on your current level of stability. At first, you might need to grab the back of a chair or put your hand on a wall or counter for support. As you get better, you can take your hand off the support, try closing your eyes, or even standing on a semi-unstable surface (such as a pillow).
Plantar flexion. Plantar flexion is how you raise your heels or point your foot downward. Probably the easiest way to do this is simply to slowly raise yourself up on tiptoes and the lower yourself back down. If that isn’t safe to perform, you can grab a towel or a resistance band. Sit down, put your leg out in front of you, and wrap the band around the front of your foot—holding both ends firmly. Slowly push your ankle down and toes forward as you provide resistance.
Dorsiflexion. This is how you point your toes upward, closer to the shin. Again there are lot of great stretches than can help you with this. One suggestion would be heel drops. Find a set of stairs with a handrail to grab if you need it. Stand on the edge of a step with your heels hanging off the edge. Slowly lower your heels beneath the level of the stair, as low as you can go, and then raise them back up to level.
You could also use the same resistance band set-up as with plantar flexion, only instead of pushing your foot forward, use the band or towel to pull the front of your foot back toward you.
Inversion and eversion. This is side-to-side motion of the foot—inversion moves the soles toward the middle of your body, while eversion moves them to the outside. After an injury, you might be limited to ankle circles or simply rotating the feet inward and outward as you sit, with legs and heels flat on the floor. To add resistance you can perform isometric exercises. Hold the foot against a stable surface (like a wall) in an inverted or everted position to perform the stretch.
When Exercise Alone Isn’t Enough
Physical therapy and exercise is an important part of almost any treatment course for strengthening weakened or wobbly ankles, but there may be other components to your treatment as well.
- Immobilization. If your sprain or other ankle injury is recent, you may need to immobilize it using a cast or walking boot to protect the tissues while they heal. Note that while the ankle is immobilized you aren’t exactly going to be doing much stretching or exercise, and this will lead to some short-term reduction in strength and flexibility. Rehabilitation is going to be critically important if you want to get your ankle back to 100%.
- Bracing. An ankle brace may be recommended to provide support and/or balance assistance during your recovery.
- Surgery. Unfortunately, ligaments that have been repeatedly weakened by injury may need to be surgically reinforced or repaired to prevent further wobbliness and instability. Additionally, ankles that have severe arthritis may need surgical debridement or potential replacement.
What you can be assured of is that, if your ankles are in pain or feeling like they’re constantly about to give way, you can and should get help. Subsequent sprains and injuries will only make the long-term problem worse.
Fortunately, we can help, with comprehensive care options for ankle injuries of all types. To schedule an appointment at one of our six convenient locations, give us a call today at (888) 689-3317.