What are weak ankles and why are they so easily injured?

What are weak ankles and why are they so easily injured?

Weak ankles are a symptom I frequently hear from patients.  They believe that their ankles twist or sprain easily due to weakness.   Some have been sent for weeks of rehab, yet they continue to have ankles that are easily injured.

Why are your ankles so problematic?

The leg is a complex series of joints and tissues.  The leg works as a unit from the toes to the ankle and then up through the knee and then the hips and back.

Many of the structures that stabilize the foot and the ankle are located in the core and include your gluts which fire to stabilize the ankles.   Covering these tissues is myofascia, which is an exoskeleton that has its own blood supply, neurological supply and forms according to the forces we place upon it.

If your body mechanics are asymmetrical, it is likely you will have a distorted core, poor leg flexibility, and ultimately seemingly weak ankles. You may also be bowlegged which will cause you to bear weight on the outside of the legs.   The tight fascia causes the legs to be stiffer and increase the force that you impact the ground with.   This causes even more tightness in the legs resulting in stiffer feet, ankles, and hips increasing the likelihood for pain, ankle strains, and even plantar fasciitis.

During a physical exam, it is important for your clinician to get a good history of not only the ankles but of knee problems, hip problems, lower back problems, and upper body issues. If that evaluation is limited to the lower leg or just the foot and ankle, it is likely your healthcare provider will miss the actual cause of the stiffness and tightness, and weakness of the ankles.  This is part of the problem of our over-specialized healthcare system as different specialties ignore the person but look at the symptomatic part.   Understanding problems like weak ankles requires an understanding of how the body works rather than a specialist in feet or ankles.

Patients may not volunteer information if they are visiting their healthcare provider for an ankle problem when it seems like a typical ankle sprain.  A good clinician will consider all possibilities with tight and stiff legs and hips being a common finding. To adequately diagnose weak ankles, a holistic approach to an ankle issue is required to properly diagnose the cause in most cases, especially with weak ankles meaning the problem is chronic or longstanding. A holistic approach would include looking at the upper and lower body, core, knees, hips, flexibility, balance, and a thorough history of everything including problems that are not currently symptomatic.

Proper treatment recommendations require a good history and evaluation.  Chiropractors are uniquely qualified as they are holistic in their training and are more likely to take a primary care approach to your problem.  A sports certified chiropractor is likely a one-stop-shop for anything musculoskeletal.

How can you help yourself?

  1. Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release which can help improve musculoskeletal function in the core, hips, and legs.   This will allow you to strengthen and retrain these areas reducing the weakness or likeliness of a reinjury.
  2. Foot orthotics whether custom or off the shelf can help as this level the hips and reduce strain on the legs, knees, ankles, and feet.
  3. Foot drills can help strengthen the intrinsic muscles in the feet and lower leg, reducing the likelihood of an injury.
  4. Proprioceptive retraining can help strengthen and retrain ankles after an injury.
  5. A chiropractor can help you improve these areas, reduce ankle stiffness and improve your body mechanics.

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