Your ankles are complex hinge joints that are crucial for most activities. Weak muscles, flat feet or bad alignment can all cause excessive ankle pronation. If your ankle rolls inward too much, it can cause injury to the ankle, legs or back. There are steps you can take to strengthen your ankles.
What is Ankle Pronation?
Ankle pronation actually occurs with every step you take. Pronation refers to the inward movement your foot and ankle make when you take a step and contact the ground with your foot. Over-pronation occurs when your foot or ankle rolls inward too much or too far. The inward movement flattens the arch of the foot, and you may feel a rolling sensation in the ankle.
If this occurs, you may experience pain in your arch, ankle, hips or knees. The pain typically occurs when you walk, run or jog, or do other physical activities that involve moving your ankles. Treating ankle pronation is important to help prevent further injury. When your ankle rolls inward, you put additional strain on the joints of your legs, hips and back. This makes you more prone to overuse injuries and injuries from being out-of-alignment.
In a small study published in Frontiers in Physiology in May 2019, researchers found that runners who over-pronate increase the amount of pressure on their lower body's joints. The study found that other movements are exaggerated as well. The combined effect can increase the likelihood of injury from poor running mechanics.
It is also possible to develop chronic ankle instability that will cause excessive ankle pronation. According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, you can develop chronic ankle instability following an ankle injury that does not heal or get rehabilitated correctly. The condition causes your ankle to feel wobbly, painful or tender. It can also cause your to frequently roll your ankle.
If this occurs, the association recommends over-the-counter pain medication, bracing and exercises to help improve your ankle's strength and stability. Following an injury, Harvard Health Publishing also recommends exercises to help support the ankle, as well as wearing appropriate shoes. The shoes you wear may include special over-pronation shoes or other supportive footwear.
Read more: The Best Running Shoes for Beginner Runner
Exercises for Ankle Pronation
Exercises and stretches that strengthen the lower legs, feet and ankles can help prevent ankle rolling. Most over-pronation treatments involve strength training that helps improve your balance, strengthening the muscles of the lower legs and feet, and improving overall stability.
For example, the Cleveland Clinic suggests three different exercises to help improve ankle stability. The exercises they recommend will help prevent ankle sprains and ankle rolling, and can also improve your balance.
Move 1: Standing Calf Raises
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- Slowly lift yourself up as high as possible onto your toes, and then slowly lower yourself back to the ground.
You should do 10 repetitions, once a day. For added resistance, you can stand on the edge of a step or raised platform, and lower yourself so your heels dip slightly below the edge. Alternatively, you can hold onto a dumbbell in each hand while doing the exercise.
Read more: How to Get Bigger Calves and Ankles
Move 2: Flex and Stretch
- Lay on your back with your toes pointed towards the ceiling and your heels on the ground.
- Slowly point your toes away from your body .
- Once you have stretched as far as you can, hold the position for 3 seconds before returning to the start position.
- You should do 10 repetitions once a day.
Move 3: ABC Exercise
- Lay on your back, or stand while holding onto a sturdy piece of furniture.
- Lift your leg and point your toe.
- Draw out each letter of the alphabet either in the air or on the ground in front of you.
- Repeat for the other leg.
You should do this once a day for each leg. If you perform all three exercises, you can improve your ankle strength, which can help prevent your ankle from rolling inward.
In addition, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends four additional exercises to add stability and strength to your ankles. They recommend performing these exercises before a run, a walk or any other exercises that require your ankles for movement and support.
Move 1: Hamstring Calf Stretch
- Lay on your back with one leg outstretched with your foot in the strap and the other foot on the floor and bent at the knee.
- Pull back on the strap while keeping the leg straight and the hip on the ground.
- Once the leg can no longer stay straight, bend the knee and push against the strap with your toes.
Move 2: Foam Rolling
- Place the foam roller on the floor.
- Lay on your side and place your lower leg on the foam roller.
- Slowly move your body up and down the roller, pausing for up to 30 seconds on the parts that feel tender.
- Repeat this for both legs.
Move 3: Round the Clock
- Stand barefoot in the center of a circle of cones or other objects set up like the face of a clock.
- Lift one leg off the ground and support yourself on your one foot.
- Move your lifted leg to point towards the 12, 3, 6 and then 9 o'clock positions, without moving the hip.
Move 4: Arch Strengthener
- While standing barefoot, focus on bringing your big toe, little toe, and heel together.
- This action contracts the muscles and lifts the arch off the ground.
- Hold the pose for 5 to 10 seconds for 5 to 10 repetitions.
If you do consistent strength and agility exercises, you can strengthen the muscles around your ankles that provide direct support. In doing so, you can reduce the number of times you roll your ankle.
- Frontiers in Physiology: "Foot Pronation Contributes to Altered Lower Extremity Loading After Long Distance Running"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Stop Sprains: 3 Easy Exercises for Your Weak Ankles"
- American Council on Exercise: "Strengthen Your Ankles with These 4 Stability and Mobility Exercises"
- American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons: "Chronic Ankle Instability"
- Havard Health Publishing: "Healthy Ankles: Your Mobility Depends on Them"