Strengthening your ankles to avoid a running injury

Injury prevention and ankle strength for runners

One of the occupational hazards for runners is the twisted ankle. The injury can occur in the most innocuous of manners but can set your training back for weeks. However, it is possible to strengthen the ankles to lessen your chances of sustaining an ankle injury while running.

A twisted ankle can occur at almost any time, but the likelihood increases when you have to run in the dark and can't really see where you are putting your next step. Clearly, the more running you do, the more likely it is that you will at some point sustain a twisted ankle injury or worse.

Such injuries can't always be avoided, but you can train your ankles to be stronger so that the chances of an ankle injury occuring are lessened. One of the easiest ways of strengthening your ankles while running is to run off road as much as possible. The constant twisting and rolling on uneven ground strengthenes the tendons around the ankle.

If you are unable to run off-road, it is still possible to strengthen your ankles while running on-road. Here are a few ideas that can be employed to help strenghten the ankles:

  • Seek out uneven patches of ground while on your run and purposely run on it. Run cautiously the first few times, but eventually you should be able to run on them without any problems.
  • Instead of stepping up kerbs, try bounding a little more and landing on your toes to strengthen the forefoot area and the tendons attached along the bottom of the foot. Also, when you step off kerbs, again bound off them, but try and land on your heels a little bit more than normal. This will help strengthen around the heel area and lower ankle joint. These movements don't need to be large but just enough so you have to make an extra stablising effort when you land.
  • Incorporate a twisting movement into your normal run to help build up the lateral strength. Instead of running in a straight line along a section of your run, try zig-zagging from side to side for a few seconds. This zig-zagging doesn't need to incorporate the whole street as you only need to increase the pressure on the ankles for a split second, so it can easily be done over a relatively small width. A few repetitions of this throughout your run will suffice and it can be done on most steady runs. Again you will become accustomed to this and eventually it will become second nature.

At first, do all these exercises on flat surfaces but over time you should be able to to start incorporating them into uphill and downhill sections as these will intesify the forces going through the ankles and strengthen further.

Another way to strengthen the ankles is to stretch the areas around the foot and calf. You can do this with a simple rotation of the foot and ankle and gradually work up to dynamic stretching over the stairs or box with your body weight as resistance.

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