I recently came across a synopsis of a study that was published in the June online edition of the AJSM (American Journal of Sports Medicine) that shows a correlation between ankle alignment and ankle sprains. Ankle sprains are the most common sports-related injury, and many people develop chronic instability and repetitive ankle injuries.
Now they’re planning to do research to determine if targeted interventions can influence how people walk and run, and perhaps even treat or prevent ankle sprains.
From my own experience, I have to say that improving foot and ankle strength, flexibility, and mobility can definitely make a huge difference in helping to keep the feet and ankles injury-free. I have seen many Pilates clients over the years who have completely changed their gait and improved the alignment of their ankles. In high school was sidelined from my sport due to ankle pain. It hurt to walk as a teenager, and I thought as an adult I’d probably be in a wheelchair! But thanks to some great foot and ankle exercises that I have continued to do throughout my lifetime – I’m happy to say my feet and ankles are healthier than ever – and running my first 1/2 marathon in May is proof that my continuing efforts to take care of my feet and ankles are paying off.
As with any injury, there are muscle memory patterns established in our system. We might limp around on a sore ankle for a couple of weeks, and that limping muscle pattern gets ingrained in our muscle memory. We are reinforcing the limping pattern with every step we take. At some point the ankle feels better and we start to walk more nomally, but the limping muscle pattern is still in our system – Unless we do enough re-strengthening, and re-balancing to remove that muscle imbalance from our body. This is one of the reasons why it’s so much easier to injure something again and again, and chronic ankle problems can develop. But limping on a sore ankle doesn’t just affect the feet! Whole-body posture and the alignment of everything from the feet up and is affected and changed by a foot or ankle injury.
The likelihood of repetitive injury doesn’t just apply to the ankles. Any part of the body that suffers pain and injury has the potential to develop chronic instability and be plagued with repetitive injury. I love Pilates because the work helps to identify your strengths, weaknesses, and muscle imbalances and then a good teacher can help create a Pilates program to re-balance the body for optimal wellness and whole-body health.
If you’re a runner or walker and are interested in being pro-active to take care of your ankles and feet, there are lots of wonderful things you can do to help maintain the strength and flexibility of your feet. Two of my favorite foot fitness products are the Centerworks Super-Ankles Foot Fitness Board, and Yamuna Foot Savers.
The Foot Fitness Board is a superior way to strengthen the ankle for medial / lateral movement which is key for reducing the risk of an ankle sprain! And there are other great exercises on this ankle board that can help train the foot and ankle for better motion for improved gait. This is a great tool to use before and/or after a walk or run to keep your ankles strong and flexible so if you happen to step off a curb funny, or land in a pothole, you won’t suffer the pain of an ankle sprain (or worse!)
The Yamuna Foot Savers are excellent for helping reduce the risk of Plantar Fasciitis – another very common foot problem for runners and walkers. If you experience pain, or extreme tightness along the sole of your foot, the Yamuna Foot Savers help to release the unnecessary tension in the muscles and fascia on the bottom of the feet. My Foot Savers travel with me everywhere, and are also lovely end of the day treat for gals who spend lots of time wearing high-heeled shoes!
In addition to these two easy to use foot-care products, there are lots of simple foot stretching and strengthening exercises you can incorporate into your training program to help keep your feet and ankles healthy. Most people don’t realize that even a short 3-5 minutes of focused foot fitness exercises can make a huge impact on helping you avoid foot pain and foot injuries.
- If you are interested in cross-training with Pilates, there are many wonderful exercises to work/stretch the legs, feet, and ankles on the Reformer, Cadillac, and Chairs, and it can be helpful to have the expert eye of a well-trained Pilates Teacher help tweak your body alignment, and find the right muscles to get the most from your workouts. Everything you learn about using your body correctly with Pilates should, in time, transfer back to walking, running, and every other activity you do.
- If you’re looking for some quick and easy exercises to do at home before or after a walk or run, grab a copy of Fantastic Feet! Exercises to Strengthen the Ankles, Arches, and Toes. This book is filled with lots of great foot-care exercises that you can easily do on your own.
Have you ever suffered an ankle sprain? Did it turn into a chronic foot problem? What tips do you have to help improve the strength, flexibility, and mobility of your ankles and feet? Here’s a link to the article that started my thoughts for this post about improving the health of your feet and ankles: Foot positioning during walking and running may influence ankle sprains.
Our feet are the most used, least cared for part of the body. I encourage you to take a little time before and/or after your workout, walk, or run to specifically treat your feet, ankles, and toes to some stretching and strengthening exercises. Be proactive to help maintain great alignment, keep things moving properly, and ensure that you can avoid chronic ankle injuries and enjoy pain-free feet!