“I started running six months ago but have been plagued by weak ankles. It takes very little for me to go over on them and can’t remember the last time they were not swollen. My physio has said my ligaments are loose. Is there anything I can do to make them stronger as I like running and don’t want to have to stop.”
Reader’s email to Matt Phillips, in-house Injury Specialist for UK magazine Running.
Many thanks for your email. Sorry to hear you are struggling with ankle sprains. The fact they are not the most common running injury makes it even more difficult for people who have to suffer them continuously.
The good news is there is plenty you can do. Firstly, let’s get rid of this idea that you have ‘weak’ ankles. The human body is an incredibly strong piece of machinery and we very rarely if ever take it to its limits. The fact it takes little for you to go over on your ankles is more likely to do with communication between your brain and the muscles rather than some structural deficiency. And this communication (referred to as proprioception) is something that can be improved easily with the right form of exercise. As far as ‘loose ligaments’ goes, I am not a great fan of such explanations as again it leaves us feeling like our body is weak and vulnerable. Though professional assessment is vital in case structural issues are involved, it is often more productive to look at the bigger picture rather than worrying too much about individual structures in the body.
When we run, every step we take involves balancing on one leg. This requires a level of coordination that can easily become a little dormant unless we stimulate it through exercise. Though as runners all we really want to do is go out and run, as individuals there is typically an area of non-running exercise that we will need to work on in order to be able to enjoy injury free running. My recommendation to you would be embark on an exercise program centred around you moving the rest of your body whilst standing on one leg. The possibilities of exercise choice are endless so I would recommend having this program created by a running sports therapist or similar so that they can ensure you enter it at the right level and have a clear understanding of how to progress it over time. The program you start is likely to be very similar to the rehab you need to successfully recover from any recent ankle sprains you may have suffered. A suitable rehab program (which may include some pain education) helps reduce the chances of re-injury.
I would also recommend you consider introducing (if you have not done so already) a little running off road, i.e. on grass or trails. This is something that a local running group may be able to help you with. The added demands of running on uneven ground will increase your coordination and strengthen that communication between brain and muscles, as long as of course you take things gradually. As an extra, I also advise many new runners to look into a few coaching sessions as developing your running form may also help you run stronger and more resilient to injury.
Do you have any experience of ‘weak ankles’? Whether you are a therapist or a runner, we would love to hear from you in the Facebook Comments section below!