How to get Trail-tough Ankles
To say that most runners have an affinity for the outdoors is an understatement. That these people are then drawn to trail running is no surprise, because trail running gives runners an opportunity to escape the concrete jungle and truly be present in the outdoors. Running between rooty trees, up and down hills, and on gnarly paths can turn an easy run into an epic adventure. Unfortunately, with all the visual stimulation of natural surroundings, runners may spend less time watching their footing, where roots, rocks, and even a forest creature can turn a smooth stride into a face plant. An ankle sprain is a common injury in trail runners. One cause of this injury is rolling over the outside of the ankle after stepping onto an uneven surface and losing balance. A sprain occurs when the ligaments supporting the side of the ankle are over-lengthened or torn. Additional structures, such as muscles, tendons and bone, can also be damaged. When we choose to run outside, we must acknowledge that we have limited control of the environment in which we run. Running on trails makes us more vulnerable. This uncertainty is part of what makes trail running exciting. But when a quick step to avoid squishing a chipmunk ends with you hobbling out of the woods, you may find it hard to remember your previous pleasant feelings. However, runners can reduce the risk of an ankle sprain by maintaining healthy ankle mobility. Mobility refers to the full range of motion in a joint. Ankle stiffness can develop in runners due to the compressive forces placed on the joint each time the foot contacts the ground, and from the tight lower-leg muscles surrounding the ankle. A stiff ankle has limited movement, particularly dorsif lexion, which is when the top of the foot is closest to the shin. An ankle with decreased mobility is less able to adapt to uneven terrain, and by virtue of being stiff in dorsif lexion, it spends more time in the opposite direction, which is plantar f lexion – a ballerina-style ankle. The plantar-f lexed position makes the outer ligaments of the ankle more susceptible to sprain when subject to stress.
A mobile ankle is a healthier, happier joint that is not so rigid in its ways that it cannot adapt to different environments. Here are some exercises to improve your ankle mobility before you hit the trails this season.