Whether you're a regular marathon runner or go for the occasional jog around the block, you've likely experienced soreness in your ankles at some point. In fact, about 30 percent of runners experience a lower extremity injury each year.
Strengthening and stretching can help prevent post-run soreness in your ankles and make it easier to go on your next run. Try these simple exercises to help reduce and prevent pain during and after a run.
This exercise can be used to prevent soreness by stretching both your gastrocnemius and your soleus. These two muscles combine to form the achilles tendon in the back of your ankle and play an important roll in propelling you forward while running.
How To: Stand in a staggered stance facing a wall with both feet pointed straight ahead. With your hands on the wall, slowly lean your body forward without allowing your back heel to lift off the ground.
When a pull is felt in your calf, hold this position for 30 seconds before releasing the stretch. Keeping the back knee straight will stretch your gastrocnemius, while bending the hind knee will stretch the soleus. Do three to five repetitions of each version before repeating the exercise on the opposite foot.
Heel Raise Eccentrics
Eccentric exercises strengthen a muscle as it elongates. This type of exercise helps to combat achilles tendinitis, which causes soreness in the back of your ankles during and after a run.
How to: Stand next to a counter with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands resting on the surface. Lift both heels off the ground as your rise up through your second and third toes.
Then, lift your right foot in the air and slowly lower your left heel back to the ground. The exercise should be done first with your knees straight and then with your knees slightly bent so that each of the calf muscles is individually targeted.
Three sets of 15 repetitions of each version can be done twice daily.
Tibialis Anterior Stretch
The tibialis anterior is a muscle in the front of your lower leg and ankle. This muscle helps to dorsiflex or pull the ankle upwards before you take your next step. Because the muscle is very active while running, soreness and fatigue are quite common.
How To: With your toes pointed downward, place the top of your right foot and lower leg on the floor. Allow your right knee to bend and slowly lower your buttocks toward your heel until a stretch is felt in the front of your ankle. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and complete three to five repetitions before switching feet.
Single-leg stance helps to improve the stability of your ankle while you run and may stop soreness from developing on the inside or outside of your foot
How To: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Begin by rolling your right foot inwards and collapsing your arch. Next, roll it outwards and increase the height of your foot's arch. Finally, find the midpoint between these two positions and maintain it as you lift your left foot off the ground.
Hold your balance for as long as you can without leaning your body to the side or losing the arch position. Try five to 10 repetitions before switching to the other foot.
When the exercise gets easy, it can be progressed by closing your eyes or by standing on an unstable surface like a couch cushion.
Resistance Band Inversion and Eversion
This exercise targets the tibialis posterior and the peroneus longus. These muscles, which insert along the inside and outside of the ankle respectively, play a large role in stabilizing the foot when you run and can become inflamed when weak.
How to: Tie a loop in a resistance band and put it around your right forefoot. Secure the other end of the band in a door and sit in a chair next to it.
Keeping your heel on the ground, slowly pull your foot inwards and away from the doorway. When you are unable to move the ankle any further without moving your leg, slowly release the tension and return to initial position.
After three sets of 15 repetitions, turn the chair around and again move the right foot away from the door to work the muscles on the outside of the ankle. Complete each variation on both your left and right foot.
Warnings and Precautions:
While stretching and strengthening the muscles of your ankle may help prevent future instances of soreness, it is not a cure-all. Persistent ankle soreness or pain should be reported to your doctor as it may indicate a more serious condition like a stress fracture or an issue with your nerves or blood vessels.