Virtually all runners experience ankle pain at some point. When ignored, the condition can turn into a nagging issue.
So what’s the best course of action for dealing with the pain? Of course, prevention.
By taking the right preventative measures, a runner can alleviate soreness and pain, and improve overall mobility and health. That’s where today’s post comes in handy.
First things first, let’s look at the ankle joint.
The Ankle Joint
The ankle joint consists of a complex grouping of bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. The joint is formed by the fibula, tibia, and talus bones.
Together, these three bones articulate at the talocrural joint, which is the synovial hinge joint that connects the ends of the fibula and tibia in the lower limb.
The Primary Movements
The ankle joint moves your foot in two primary directions: plantarflexion—away from your body, and dorsiflexion—toward your body. It also allows for side-to-side movements, mainly eversion and inversion.
The joint also supports your weight while performing any weight-bearing movement, such as when standing, running, and jumping. For this reason, the area is prone to injury, especially when running.
Let’s put things into perspective. Research out of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal has reported that the average runners take roughly 1700 steps per mile when cruising at a pace of 10 minutes per mile.
While the exact leg turnover hinges on other factors, such as your stride length, height, and speed, you’re still placing a lot of stress on your ankle joints.
That’s why, as a runner, you may experience ankle issues form time to time. If not addressed, ankle pain can turn into a chronic and debilitating condition.
The American College of Sports Medicine reported that an estimated 25,000 Americans sprain their ankle each day.
Research also from the University of Bern in Switzerland reported that ankle injuries make up roughly 30 percent of all running injuries. That’s a lot.
Regardless of what’s causing the pain, ankle issues can slow you down and even put a halt to your training, so you’re going to need to be proactive about it to stay ahead of it.
Strengthen Your Ankle Joint
A lot of runners may feel unstable in their ankles, and it’s usually due to having weak muscles around their ankle joint.
If any of the muscles surrounding your ankle is proportionally weak, especially those that are on the outside, you’ll run a high risk for pain and injury.
For a balanced approach, try strengthening your ankles in all four directions: dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, eversion, and inversion.
Perform 12 to 16 reps of these exercises three times per week for two months, and you’ll see a drastic improvement in both your ankle strength and stability.
Try the following four exercises:
- Ankle Circles
- Ankle Alphabet
- Calf raises
- Shin raises
You can strengthen you’re the muscles around your ankle 24/7 but if you lack good proprioception—which is your body’s ability to control itself in all sorts of positions, strength won’t help much. That’s why you should also do some balance training for your wobbly ankles.
This type of training helps your muscles and brain to work together to offer stability to the ankle joint and support that system with stronger ankle muscles.
Try balancing on one leg for one minute. If this is too easy, make it more challenging. Attempt balancing on one leg on an unstable surface like a dynamic disc, foam pad, or Bosu ball.
Do balance training on wobble boards and unstable surfaces.
Avoid running on uneven surfaces
There’s a reason why ankle sprains are common among trail runners. Tree stumps, holes, rocks, and roots are all problematic.
Running on uneven terrains can cause more harm than good. Such surfaces place undue stress and strain on your feet and knees, resulting in trouble down the road—ankle pain is no exception.
Avoid running on rough or uneven surfaces that may force your ankle to roll. Instead, stick to dirt and even roads, especially when you have chronic ankle pain. Choose a good surface if possible, and be careful on hills with loose gravel and rocky terrain.
Run in the right shoes
Choose running shoes specifically for your foot type and are appropriate for the terrain.
If you pronate or have low arches, choose shoes that provide enough support in both the front of the shoe and under the arch. Also, make sure that heel, as well as the heel counter, are very stable.
To help reduce the risk of ankle injury on slippery or technical surfaces, make sure your shoes should provide good grip and have a low profile.
Replace your running shoes when the heels wear down or tread wear down. If you run regularly, replace your shoes every four to six months—roughly 400 to 500 miles.
Last but not least, you may blame your ankle pain on doing too much.
Logging in too many miles can sap your muscles and make you prone to injuries like strains, sprains, and inflammation.
To avoid falling into the overuse trap, increase your training load gradually, and take a break from more rigorous training. It’s key to gradually ease yourself into running to avoid setbacks.
If you have persistent pain, reduce your training, or stop altogether. If you constantly suffer ankle pain during or after running, head your body’s calls.
In case your ankle hurts and doesn’t go away after a few days, it might be time to consult your doctor to make sure there isn’t an injury.