Over one million people in the United States visit a physician for an ankle injury every year, according to the American Academy of Family Practice. Don’t end up a statistic – and save yourself some pain – by warming up your ankles before any activity. Scott Reents, a physical therapist at DMOS Orthopaedic Centers shares these important tips to help you prevent ankle injuries.
Prepping for your workout.
Prepping is a huge part of being active and staying safe.
- Know your history and your body. If you had a prior ankle injury, you can’t assume it’s not going to do it again. Reents recommends “using a brace or tape, because you are much more likely sprain your ankle if it has been sprained before.”
- Footwear (yes, it matters!). Another important factor to consider when prepping to exercise or train is your footwear. A gait analysis can help determine what type of shoes might be best for you based on your individual needs. In a gait analysis, a professional will watch you walk or run on a treadmill to best understand how your foot moves, allowing them to recommend the best shoe to protect your foot and ankle from injury.
Starting a workout? Training? Before you start any activity, it is vital to do some pre-workout active stretching. This ensures your calf muscles are properly warmed up and limber, as cold muscles and ligaments could increase the likelihood that you may roll your ankle, or incur some other injury. Tip: Focus on short duration, or dynamic stretching, prior to a workout, practice or game, (5-10 second hold) alternating legs 4-5 times. Save the longer duration stretching (20-30s seconds) for afterward.
A great technique Reents recommends is to use a curb or wall to stretch your calf muscles. Start with your heel on the ground and toes running up the curb, or wall, then move your body forward over the leg you are stretching. Hold this stretch for a short duration of 5-10 seconds and repeat with each ankle several times.
Active Warm-up Drills.
Incorporate light warm-up drills into your work-out, helping to warm-up and prep your ankle muscles and ligaments for activity. We recommend running the following drills to properly warm-up:
- Single-leg drills. Balance on one leg and imagine you are the center of a clock. Now reach your non-stance leg out and back to different hours of the clock working to maintain good core control and balance. Work around the clock 10 times on each leg. (Your right leg would start at 12:00 and finish at 7:00. Your left leg would start at 12:00 and finish at 5:00). Need help with your balance? Hold on lightly to a walking stick, broomstick, or back of a chair.
- In-place plyometrics. Warming up in place minimizes the space needed to correctly warm up for your activity. We recommend these drills to be run for 30 seconds each.
1. Hopping or run in place – This should be a light jog.
2. High knees – With elbows at your sides and hands out in front, jog in place raising your knees to your hands.
3. Seat kicks – Jog in place trying to kick your seat with each heel.
4. Forward-backward and side-to-side hopping – Work in each direction for 15-20 reps each, then try alternating directions.
Prior to practice take the time to complete a few running drills. Start out slow, gradually increasing speed with each drill for about 30-40 yards for a gradual warm up. You could begin with simple jogging, then side shuffling, side carioca, backward run and then cutting, or quick change in directions.
Cool Down Stretch.
“When you are finished working out make sure you take the time to stretch the muscles you just worked,” said Reents. “Long duration stretching is an excellent way to cool down the muscles and prevent injury. A 20 to 30-second stretch of the major muscle groups, including your calfs, is the perfect way to end your workout.”
Although we have stressed the importance of warming up and proper stretching, Reents stresses that it is crucial for athletes to stay hydrated. Drinking water helps regulate your body temperature and prevent muscle cramps.