DEAR DOCTOR K: I have weak ankles, and as a result, I have frequent ankle sprains. Can you suggest some ankle-strengthening exercises?
DEAR READER: Our ankles are workhorses and take a lot of abuse. They must bear the full weight of our bodies, yet stay nimble and flexible through every step and jump. It’s amazing they work as well as they do. As is true with every weight-bearing joint in our bodies, the muscles that affect the movement of the joint are the joint’s best friends. I learned this the hard way. I badly injured my right quadriceps muscle playing basketball when I was in my 20s. The quadriceps is in the front of the upper leg and protects the hip. Despite my exercising, that muscle never regained normal strength. As a result, 30 years later I needed a right hip joint replacement. My left hip was perfectly fine. Weak muscles supporting the ankle make you more vulnerable to injuries such as sprains. They also make you more likely to fall, and to suffer injuries from the fall. Ankle sprains stretch or even tear the ligaments that keep ankle bones and joints properly positioned. And in a vicious cycle, lax ligaments set the stage for additional sprains. A combination of strengthening and stretching ankle exercises can help increase much-needed flexibility in your ankles. They can help build up supporting muscles that keep you balanced whether you’re standing still, walking over changing terrain or dancing. Here are two ankle-strengthening exercises and one ankle stretch. I’ve put photos of these exercises on my website, AskDoctorK.com.
•Single leg stances (strengthening): Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your right foot a few inches off the floor, bending your knee slightly, and balancing on your left leg. Hold for 60 seconds, then lower your foot to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg. This completes one set. Do one to three sets, resting for 30 to 90 seconds between sets.
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