Exercises for Pain Free Running: Ankles
Running should not be painful. Many times I hear, "I use to be a runner, but I have bad knees" or "my body isn't fit for running". Sure, you may not like running , in which case you shouldn't do it. But if pain is what is stopping you from pounding the pavement, I am here to say there is more than enough hope for you.
The answer is, movement! There are tons of exercises that strengthen the muscles and ligaments recruited during your runs. This simply means you must focus on the areas that tend to not feel good and work to get stronger.
The next few blog posts will be dedicated to specific exercises that increase strength in your major, running muscle groups. That includes your ankles, quads, adductors/abductors, hips, glutes, piriformis, hamstrings and core.
Why are my ankles weak?
Ankle weakness could stem from many things. The most common ankle pain culprit is from a previous injury or impact of some sort. Consult with your physician and work with a physical therapist for a personalized rehabilitation program. The following exercises are suitable to prevent discomfort after you've healed completely.
If you have not injured yourself but find your ankles are weak, the following exercises will help build strength and mobility to reduce discomfort.
Types of ankle pain
Area of pain
Tendonitis caused by overuse
Rest; strengthening exercises in the calf; ice
Pain in heel
Inflammation in ligament that assists in arch (plantar fasciitis)
Exercises and stretches that strengthen ligaments around the arch; ice; anti-inflammatory medication
Pain in ball of foot
Pain below the toes due to nerve discomfort or inflamed joints
Where sturdy shoes that help decrease inflammation; strengthen the ligaments and tendons around the top of your ankle
Impact or accidents can cause a fracture that may not "appear" broken (can still walk, etc) but swelling and pain will slowly start to occur a few days
Complete rest and healing; working with a physical therapist to build both mobility and strength in the ankle
Ankle exercise for pain free running
Complete each exercises 2-3 times a day, 15-30 repetitions. Doing these exercises will improve mobility, build strength, and relieve discomfort during your runs. You only need a medium looped resistance band to perform all the exercises.
Gastrocnemius Calf Raises
Helps Achilles Tendonitis, building strength after a fracture and pain the heel
How to: Find an elevated surface and place your toes on the surface. Allow your heals to drop below that surface then push through the ball of your foot to lift your heels higher than the surface.
This will strengthen your calves and work on range of motion in your ankles.
Tibialis Posterior inversions
Can help if you experience pain in the ball of your foot, top of the ankle or back of the ankle
How to: Using a resistance band, place the band around both feet. While seated, raise one leg and place in a figure 4 position by crossing one ankle over the other knee. Allow the band to pull down on the foot as you work to rotate the foot up to the sky. Perform this 15-30 times.
This will strengthen your inner calves, posterior tibialis, and work ankle mobility.
Peroneus Brevis Lateral Flexion
Can help if you experience pain in lateral portion of the ankle and the arch of the foot
How to: Wrap the resistance band around a pole or something that won't move. Wrap the other end around your foot. While keeping your heal planted, pivot the ball of the foot externally.
This will strengthen your lateral ligaments and ankle pain around the lateral side.
Peroneus Longus Pointers
Helps pain around the top of the ankle, helps decrease inflammation in the arch of the foot, helps increase strength in the calves
How to: Wrap a tight band around one foot and extend the leg in front of you while holding the band. With the band resistance placed at the ball of the foot, point and flex your foot 15-30 times.
Practice these exercises to strengthen your muscles and ligaments around your ankle. As a prevention method, practice these exercises once a week to ensure pain doesn't come back. When you build stronger muscles, you are able to endure more impact from running without the tremendous forces the pounding would cause if you were weak. Strength training has helped all of my clients become better, pain-free runners which has made them faster, able to train harder, and excel their performance.
Michaud, T. C. (2021). Injury-free running: Your illustrated guide to biomechanics, gait analysis, and injury prevention. Lotus Publishing.