Exercises for Developing Foot and Ankle Stability
For being relatively small, a person’s feet and ankles play an incredibly important role in everyday life. From allowing us to stand, walk, and balance to giving us the freedom to participate in our favorite sports, our lower extremities are complex systems that deserve more attention than they typically receive.
The human foot is comprised of over 100 muscles. Some run only between other bones in the foot, which are called intrinsic muscles, and others connect to the ankle and beyond. Though small, the muscles in your foot are an important part of maintaining the integrity of the system as a whole.
The ankle, however, does not contain many muscles but does have a great deal of tendons passing through and crossing around it for stability. This doesn’t mean you can’t train for ankle strength and stability, though, as the foot and lower leg is where much of that comes from.
These exercises will help you build a strong foundation of mobility and strength so you can avoid future foot and ankle injury.
While not directly strengthening the muscles, foam rolling is a popular technique used by athletes to restore mobility and relieve tension on certain muscles. There is a group of muscles in your lower leg between the knee and ankle called the peroneals, whose ligaments run down through the ankle and into the foot. When those muscles are too tight, it can cause pain and limited mobility in the foot and ankle.
Starting under the knee, slowly work your foam roller down towards your ankle, focusing only on soft tissue and avoiding bone. For any areas that feel tender, stop on that area for 10-30 seconds.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t stretch nearly as much as we should. Even athletes are guilty sometimes, but stretching is crucial for proper joint mobility. Both the hamstrings and calves are responsible for flexion in the foot and should be stretched regularly.
Using a stretching strap, lay on your back with one foot in the strap and other leg flat on the ground. Pull back on the strap with your hands while trying to keep the leg straight and your hips flat to the ground. When your knee starts to bend, continue pulling on the strap while simultaneously pulling your toes up toward your face. This helps stretch all areas of the back of your leg.
Work On Your Arches
Your body can only be as strong as the foundation on which it sits, and improving that will help prevent your body from having to compensate in other areas which can lead to injury. Your foot works similarly to a tripod, with legs under the big toe, pinky toe, and heel. Try pressing those “points” into the ground and squeezing them together – you’ll feel the arch of your foot contract. Hold that for 10 seconds and repeat five to 10 times.
Pay Attention to Your Support Muscles
Introducing dynamic movements into your routine allows the support muscles for the foot and ankle to engage and further improve stability and thusly, strength. One great exercise is called “reaches.” Stand on one leg and imagine you are in the center of a clock. Take your lifted leg and extend it towards the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions without rotating at the hips.
If you’re experiencing foot and ankle pain or mobility issues, the staff here at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine can help. Our foot and ankle team includes board certified surgeons Kurtis Hort, MD, Sina Kasraeian, MD, and board certified podiatric physician Beth Pearce, DPM, creating one of the most specialized services in the area. Request an appointment online or call at (904) 825-0540 to make an appointment.
BETH PEARCE, DPM
Board Certified by the American Board of Podiatric Orthopaedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine.