What a fantastic joint the ankle is! It’s comprised of the talocrural joint, which hinges the foot up and down, and the subtalar joint which swivels the foot from side to side. It’s rich in ligaments for stability and for feedback to the brain about your foot’s position and the way your body is balanced on top of it.
What a pain the ankle joint is, too, when you sprain it! There are plenty of pain receptors there, which you’ll know all about if you’ve twisted your ankle and been out of action for several weeks. Spraining ankles can cause disruption to the ligaments, which can lead to further twisting injuries.
Common Ankle Problems
Other causes of ankle pain include:
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome – compression of the tibial nerve as it passes behind the inner ankle bone. It can cause tingling and pain along the inside of the foot, and sometimes weakness of the muscles that flex the toes. The condition is more common in distance runners, and also people with very flat feet, arthritis or diabetes.
- Tendinopathies – eg. Achilles, tibial (on the inside) and peroneal (on the outside). Often because of a sudden increase in demand.
What can be done for ankle pain?
Treatment is aimed at reducing local pain and swelling, looking at the way your ankle moves in relation to the rest of your body (especially your knees, hips and pelvis), stretching and strengthening, and ensuring good mobility in the other joints of the foot.
For virtually all the patients I see with ankle problems, I will suggest balance exercises. This helps strengthen the ankle, and encourages integration with the pelvis and lower limb, and, importantly, reinforces the neural feedback from the ankle (reminding your brain the ankle is there and it needs listening to!). If you have a history of ankle sprains, try these. Make sure you’re in safe space first and have something to grab if you start to wobble, then progress like this:
- Stand on one leg for as long as you can. Try to increase by ten seconds every couple of days.
- Repeat this but with your eyes closed. A lot more challenging!
- With eyes open, stand on one leg on an unstable surface – wobble board, or just a pillow.
- Progress again to doing this with eyes closed.
- Back to a stable surface, now stand on one leg and try reaching to touch things around you. This will make your ankle work as a team with the rest of your body.