Your feet and ankles are subject to significant impact if you are an avid runner, and they are among runners' most frequently injured body parts. Ankle stiffness is a common side effect that can affect your range of motion, making your ankle feel immobile. In some instances, ankle stiffness can cause limping. Understanding how running can contribute to ankle stiffness and potential injury can help you determine when to seek treatment.
When you run, the impact on your ankles and feet can increase the risk for stiffness. Studies show the faster you run, the more likely you are to experience post-running stiffness from the increase in impact, according to the University of Delaware. The mechanics of how you run also may affect ankle stiffness. For example, a forefoot strike pattern in running is associated with less ankle stiffness than a rear-foot strike. If you think your running mechanics are contributing to ankle stiffness, seek the advice of a running coach who can evaluate your form.
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If you experience ankle stiffness after running, it can indicate an underlying medical condition, including an ankle sprain, arthritis or plantar fasciitis.These conditions tend to cause ankle stiffness when you rest the foot and ankle. If you suspect you have an injury, continuing to run can cause further damage to your ankle. See your physician if you suspect your ankle stiffness may be a symptom of something more serious.
You can minimize ankle stiffness after running by resting and elevating the ankle. Apply ice to your ankle to minimize swelling, and take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen to relieve pain. You may also wish to have your shoes evaluated, because unsupportive shoes can contribute to ankle instability that can cause stiffness. If possible, rest the ankle until stiffness subsides before running again.
In addition to treatments to minimize pain, you can take steps to strengthen your ankles and improve flexibility in the ankle joints, which can help minimize ankle stiffness after running. Examples include pointing and flexing the foot, then adding a resistance band to increase strength. Calf-strengthening exercises, such as rising and lowering on the balls of your feet, can help to enhance ankle stability.