The How & Why of Ankle Instability

Many of us, without even releasing, lack sufficient foot/ankle stability to safely participate in the types of activities we really want to. We may feel the effects of this instability further up the chain - knees, lower back, or hip discomfort when really it is our feet and ankles we need to look at.

Foot and ankle balance can be a really under-trained skill, yet so crucial to your overall stability. Early detection and proactive remedial work can save you from injury in your 30's - 50's as well as preparing you for greater stability as you age.

If you are feeling discomfort in your hips or knees, keep reading for some advice to for sustainable results.

Why do our ankles and feet become unstable in the first place?

To be honest, this is the life we have adapted to.

  • Spending a lot of time in very restrictive footwear that squeezes all your toes together or keeps your foot in an unnatural posture; like a stiletto for women, pointed shoes for men, or even narrow flat shoes can pinch toes together. If you think that original (wo)man roamed barefoot, there was nothing restricting or altering the shape of the foot and therefore the stability that was provided by a wide 3 point base.

  • Habitual movement patterns like over or under pronating your feet as you walk, perhaps an old injury created a new gait pattern which you adopted ongoing.

  • An ankle sprain that you completely forgot about could be a major factor, especially if it wasn’t rehabilitated at the time

  • Lack of strength in the ankle and foot muscles can also be an issue as we age - and let’s be honest, who trains their ankles and feet??

This is why we look at a full-body, closed-loop (standing position) assessment when you come in for your initial Remedial Appointment, and often at subsequent appointments. We will look at how you load (where your weight is distributed when you stand and move) and what happens to your ankles and feet as you squat or move your weight from one side to the other.

Why is this instability such an issue? I don't notice it when I'm walking or climbing stairs.

The types of activities that can start to become problematic when we lack ankle and foot stability are any that involve shifting your weight from one foot to the other, balancing on one foot, and jumping movements. These movements are involved in many sports; soccer or tennis and running, especially on uneven ground can be risky if this instability is not corrected. Even daily tasks like going up or downstairs, bending, and reaching for things can be compromised when you are not well balanced on your feet.

Although you may not realise it initially, the longer it goes on, the larger the problem gets, and all of a sudden you'll start to feel the instability and by then you've got your work cut out for you - starting early helps!

What does it all mean?

The underlying issue comes down to proprioception; your awareness of the position and movement of your body. This is the interaction of your nervous system with your joints and muscles i.e. your mind to body connection. As mentioned earlier, this is often something that isn’t restored properly after injury or trained in general. This is very different from flexibility or strength training; it is a separate skill that needs to be targeted specifically.

It's more obvious for those who suffer from a feeling of instability in either or both ankles or who have repeatedly sprained their ankles. You are more likely to seek help, and if you haven't now is the time to. But if you are feeling pain in your lower back, knees, or legs in general it may be stemming from a hidden instability. This is where remedial (rehab) treatments and strength exercises can be of assistance.

At Muscle Medicine, our Remedial Therapists can take your ankles and feet through a really detailed movement assessment to narrow down exactly how and where you might be lacking stability. Once we have gathered this information, there are a variety of different stability drills that can start to build your proprioception; that mind-to-muscle connection that is so integral to our dynamic balance and movement efficiency.

Our Top 3 Tips for Greater Stability

  1. Ankle & Foot ROM (range of movement) exercises regularly

  2. Strength exercises for ankle and feet

  3. Spend more time barefoot to build proprioception and generally connect with Mother Nature!

If you feel you are neglecting your feet and ankles or are simply curious as to how they could be contributing to the nagging low back, knee, or hip pain you’re experiencing then we would love to see you for an assessment and to help you on the road to greater stability for life!

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