The arches of the feet have a curvature that helps absorb shock when you walk or run. When the arches are flat, it causes the ankles to turn in. This condition is known anatomically as pronation. Over the course of time, pronation can lead to complications like plantar fasciitis, shin splints and Achilles tendinitis. Corrective exercises help strengthen weak muscles and lengthen tight muscles that act upon the ankle.
Anatomy of the Lower Leg
The bottom of the leg contains multiple muscles that keep the ankles in proper alignment and allow you to walk with a normal gait. The goal with exercise is to strengthen and stretch all of these muscles to correct the imbalance of the ankles turning in. The main muscles involved with this are the tibialis posterior, gastrocnemius, soleus, and poroneus longus and brevis. The poroneals sit on the lateral side of the shin, the gastroc and soleus are the calf muscles, and the tibialis posterior is in front of the calves.
The posterior tibialis is responsible for keeping a good arch in the foot. When this muscle is weak, the arch tends to flatten out and the ankle turns in. An outward calf raise helps strengthen this muscle. Perform this by lifting your heels off the floor and biasing your weight toward your little toes. A regular calf raise targets the calf muscles and it is performed by rising straight up on your tiptoes with your weight equally distributed on your forefoot. This places most of the effort on the gastroc and soleus. Beach walking is another method to strengthen the lower leg muscles. Not only does this works the calves, poroneals and posterior tibialis, but it also works the small muscles on the bottom of the feet to further correct your ankle alignment. If you do not have access to a beach, walking on soft ground is acceptable. For best results, walk up a hill and go barefooted. This will place more emphasis on your muscles.
Resistance Band Exercises
Eversion, inversion and plantar flexion describe the outward, inward and downward motion of the ankles. Resistance bands, which are constructed out of durable rubber, allow you to do eversion, inversion and plantar flexion exercises to strengthen the poroneals, calves and tibialis posterior. All of these exercises are performed from a seated position with your legs extended out in front of you. Eversion takes place when you rotate your ankle and foot outward against the resistance of the band. Inversion is done the complete opposite way, and plantar flexion is performed by pushing the band straight down with your toes while holding the ends. These exercises will create balanced strength in your lower legs to help promote better alignment. To optimize these exercises, start off with a light band and work your way up as you get stronger. The light colors have light resistance and dark colors have heavier resistance.
Stretches for the Lower Leg Muscles
The tibialis anterior is the long muscle that runs down the length of the shin. By doing a tibialis wall stretch, you will strengthen this muscle while lengthening the calves. Both of these actions can help correct ankle pronation. To do this stretch, place your hands on a wall with your feet in a staggered stance, lift your back heel as high as possible and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. A step stretch is performed by placing your feet on a stair step and lower your heels toward the floor. This lengthens the calves, tibialis posterior and Achilles tendons. It is best to do these stretches in bare feet. If you attempt the stair stretch and feel off balance, place one hand lightly on a handrail or wall.
Tips About Frequency
For the exercises to be beneficial, you need to do them on a regular basis, such as every other day. With the body weight and resistance band exercises, 12 to 15 reps and three or four sets is optimal. Walk up hills for five to 10 minutes and finish your workouts with three or four sets of the stretches. Being that you are not lifting heavy weights, your muscles do not need as much time to recovery between workouts.