In the grand scheme of injuries, a sprained ankle doesn't seem like it would be something of significant consequence. Every now and again you'll step off the curb at the grocery store and roll your ankle. Maybe you'll ice it and take some over-the-counter pain reliever and it's all a distant memory in a day or two. But you might not be aware that frequent ankle sprains can have a serious negative effect on your body down the line.
So what exactly are the consequences of too many ankle sprains?
Seems obvious but it does set you up for even more ankle sprains
Damaged or torn ligaments that do not regenerate
Misalignment of the bones in the ankle
Degenerative changes such as arthritis and stiff ankles
Unstable knees that can lead to tears
Irregular gait or walking funny
In general, there are four major ligaments that hold the ankle to the foot. We also have a whole bunch of tendons that act as levers and pulleys for the mechanics of the foot and ankle. We rely on both systems: the active muscles and tendons and the passive ligaments and joint capsules to give us the most stable ankles possible.
Every time we sprain them, this balance or harmony gets more and more out of whack. Ligaments don't just come back, so to account for them your active tendons will have to be twice as strong to provide more stability.
When there is nothing to really keep the bones from sliding around in the foot and ankle, imagine what happens to them after thousands of steps per day. It can result in so many misalignments and compression.
The more misalignments there are, the funnier you walk. The funnier you walk, the more misalignments, friction and tensions build. That can then lead to stiff or swollen ankles and bone spurs can develop. Even worse, there can be arthritic changes that limit the motion of your ankles even more.
The final step in the things that can go wrong is something that I believed happened to me from chronic ankle sprains. As your ankle becomes more and more unstable, the stress gets redistributed to other areas of the body to make up for it. In my case, I think that instability was being compensated for by my knees and I ended up tearing my left ACL. But this domino effect can prey on your knees, hip, SI joints, lower back or even neck.
Unstable ankles are very frequently the result of chronic ankle sprains leaving you misaligned. So what can we do about it?
Here are my two favorite exercises that can both rehabilitate and work as a preventative measure for chronic ankle sprains:
Self Ankle Rotation Mobilization
Some of my favorite exercises are the ones that require no special equipment. For this exercise, all you need is both of your feet. This exercise gets things back in alignment!
Ankle Alphabets with Ball
This is another very basic exercise that only requires a small ball like a golf ball. This recruits all of the muscles and tendons in the ankle! If this exercise is too difficult, you can try the ankle alphabets without the ball.
Doing these exercises daily promote the use of the correct muscles and create a more regular gait pattern. If you need more tips for a better gait, you can check out our walking video below!
Remember, we heal smarter not harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin