Ah, your feet. You don’t really give them much thought until there’s a problem. But if you’ve ever rolled your ankle, you know how debilitating it can be and how quickly a bad ankle can bring you down. Keeping your feet and ankles in a healthy state can lessen your chance of injury. So, you need to know the best ankle stretches to keep your ankles flexible and to keep any pain to a minimum.
But before we get into the stretches, let’s look at the ankle itself.
The Anatomy of the Ankle
In order to perform ankle stretches properly, you need to understand the anatomy of the area. The ankle joint is the hinge joint where the leg and the foot meet, and it is responsible for the up and down motion of your foot. Typically, when we refer to our ankle we are including this joint and the surrounding bones and ligaments.
Three bones meet up at the ankle: the tibia (shin bone), fibula (smaller lower leg bone), and the talus (large foot bone). The hard, knobby bones on either side of the ankle are called malleoli, and this helps to provide support to your ankles. The ligaments in the area attach the bones to muscles, and they also support the region.
A well-known and important tendon is the Achilles tendon. We’ve all heard the mythological stories of the Achilles heel, and these come from the fact that this tendon is very important to our ability to walk, but it is also prone to injury. This tendon runs right along the back of the ankle from the calf muscle to the base of the heel.
What Can Cause Ankle Pain?
Most ankle injuries occur when we twist our foot beyond its natural range of motion. This overextension can cause the ligaments in the region to tear or strain. This can easily happen if you turn or twist the ankle in an awkward way.
A sprained ankle will cause pain in the area, especially when that foot bears weight. The area could be tender to the touch, and you might notice swelling or bruising. You could experience a restricted range of motion and instability. Typically a sprain takes time and rests to heal, but always go see your healthcare provider if you suspect a strain.
Rest, elevation and ice will help, and you might need to lay off using the ankle for a few days. If the strain is worse, it may take longer. Once you are feeling up to it, you can try the following stretches to help you heal, get a better range of motion, increase flexibility, and strengthen your ankles. These benefits will make your ankle feel better, but they will also protect you from future injury.
If the tendon is torn, you could also hear a popping noise at the time of the injury. The bones, joint space, ligaments, tendons, or even muscles can be tweaked wrong and cause you discomfort. It is important to first see your medical care provider if you feel a sharp pain, or if you hear a pop at the time of injury. If the pain is dull, then it more than likely is a sprain and will require rest and a slow return to activity.
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There are other causes for pain in the ankle such as Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, and possibly a break or fracture in a bone. These issues should be evaluated by a medical doctor, as further treatment may be needed. For stretches that are safe and will help ease pain for a basic ankle sprain, see the below section.
Why Do Ankle Stretches Help With Pain?
Stretching is good for our overall health. It keeps our muscles elongated, which helps protect our bodies from injury and soreness. Stretching a sore ankle helps with stiffness and keep the ankle loose and warm. This helps keep blood flowing to the area, which helps in the healing process. Before performing any stretches, always check with your doctor first.
Besides helping your body heal from an injury, stretching is an important part of protecting ourselves from future injury. Keeping our muscles and tendons stretched and strong with a wider range of motion helps them to adjust and react better when we trip or extend our ankle just a little too far. This coupled with better balance will help keep our ankles and overall bodies healthy and injury-free.
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5 Ankle Stretches for Pain
Below are five highly effective ankle stretches that will help ease the pain in your ankle and help to prevent future injuries. We’ve broken these stretches up into four vital areas: improving the range of motion, stretching, strengthening, and balance. All four elements are crucial for maintaining ankle health. We advise that you warm up with a five- to ten-minute walk, or possibly a ten-minute ride on an indoor bike before starting these stretches to make sure your muscles are warm.
1. Ankle Circles
The first of these ankle stretches is very simple and can be done anytime you are sitting in a chair. This stretch is good for improving your range of motion. When you improve your range of motion, you are making your ankles able to stretch and move farther, and thus making them less likely to sprain.
You can either sit in a chair or lie on the floor for this stretch. If you are lying down, just bend both legs at the knee with your feet resting on the ground. From either a sitting or standing position lift the left leg and rest it on the right leg, just above the ankle.
Slowly circle your left ankle around to the left and then to the right. Repeat the same exercise with the right ankle. To get an even better stretch for each ankle try to write the alphabet in the air with your foot, leading with your big toe. If you are circling the ankle, do it ten times per ankle, and if you are using the alphabet method, do it two times per ankle.
2. Towel Stretch
This is another simple stretch that will improve your flexibility. Sit up straight on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Take a rolled-up towel and place it under the ball of your left foot. With a hand holding each end of the towel, gently pull it towards you. Your foot should bend up and you will feel the stretch along the back of your leg. Keep the knee straight. Hold this stretch for twenty to thirty seconds and then repeat two to four times on each side.
3. Calf Stretches
This next stretch also concentrates on stretching out the calves and the Achilles tendon. Stand up straight and tall with your feet hip width apart. Stand about two feet from a wall, facing the wall. Take both arms and put them out straight in front of you until your palms are resting on the wall. Make sure your arms are perpendicular to the wall.
Take one foot and put it directly behind the other, toe to heel. Keep both heels on the ground and your back leg straight. Gently bend the front knee until you feel a stretch along the back of your back leg. Hold the stretch for fifteen to thirty seconds and release. Repeat the stretch three to five times and then perform the same stretch on the other leg.
4. Standing Calf Raises
Out of our five ankle stretches, this one improves strength, balance, and flexibility. Stand straight and tall with your hands on your hips. Lift yourself up on the balls of your feet and then slowly let yourself down. Do this movement for about a minute and rest when needed. For a more challenging strength builder, try doing this exercise on one foot at a time with the other bent at the knee behind you.
5. Chair Pose
This stretch is actually a yoga move that is perfect for improving balance and stretching out your calves and Achilles tendon. Stand with your legs hip width apart and your arms lying at your side. As you inhale raise both arms straight up. They should be parallel to each other. As you raise your arms move your hips back and down like you are about to sit in a chair. Go as far down as you can while maintaining your balance and make sure to exhale. Hold the pose for at least thirty seconds if you are able.
As you continue to try this stretch, try getting your thighs parallel to the floor. This might not happen right away, but don’t let that discourage you. The more you attempt it, the further you will go. Not only is this a great stretch for your ankles, but it also helps to work your core and your thighs. Concentrate on breathing as you hold the chair position.
Ankle Stretches: Conclusion
Now that you have five effective ankle stretches at your disposal, you can walk, run, and work out without fear of another ankle sprain. While these injuries aren’t typically serious, they can debilitate you for a short period of time, and some can be painful. So before you start that next jog, take an extra fifteen minutes to get your ankles warmed up and stretched.