Healthy Tahoe: Exercise injury prevention for ankles

Caroline Barichievich, PT, MSPT, CSCS

The feet and ankles, supporting the weight of the rest of your body, are prime targets for painful injuries. From broken bones to frostbite, you’re at extra risk for foot and ankle injuries during winter. With some management and exercises, many can be prevented.

Caroline Barichievich

Guarding against injury is best accomplished by increasing both flexibility and strength in the ankle and foot. Target the muscles that support your ankles to protect your joints by strength-training two or three times a week on alternating days and always after you’ve warmed up.

Start by using a resistance band to work calf muscles. Sit on the floor, with legs straight. Wrap the center of the band around your right foot and hold the ends taut in both hands. Flex toes, hold and return to start. Complete your reps. Next, point your toes, hold and return to start, adjusting the tautness of the bands in your hands as needed. Complete reps, then repeat the entire sequence with your left foot.

Now move to calf raises using your own body weight for resistance. Hold the back of a chair or face a wall and place your hands against it for balance. Lift your left foot behind you, heel toward your butt, placing all your weight on your right leg. Now lift just your right heel off the floor. Hold for three seconds, then lower.

For both exercises, start with one set of eight reps and build to three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Complete your reps, then switch legs and repeat. Progress to a single leg balance with eyes open and closed or on an unstable surface to work on balance training and proprioception. Hold for 20-30 seconds and perform three sets on each leg.

To avoid injury, always build up endurance gradually, no matter what the activity, and get instruction if needed so that you always use the proper technique.

Follow strength training with stretches. Take your ankles through a full range of motion by using your toes to trace the alphabet. Sit on a high stool so your feet won’t touch the floor. Start with your right foot and, leading with the big toe, pretend to write each letter from A to Z in the air. Use small movements—only your foot and ankle move. Repeat with the left foot. Note: You can do this stretch every day, after any type of exercise that warms up your body, even a five-minute walk.

In addition to simple exercises, be sure to wear proper footwear when participating in outdoor activities. Prioritize traction and warmth to keep your feet protected from cold and your ankles supported.

In the case of a suspected fracture or sprain caused by a fall, prompt diagnosis and treatment is recommended. Initial treatment may include the RICE principle—Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation—followed by bracing or taping. Some injuries may require surgery to return to function.

Caroline Barichievich, PT, MSPT, CSCS, is a physical therapy and rehabilitation expert with Barton Orthopedics & Wellness. She specializes in sports medicine, orthopedics, and runners analysis. A recorded Wellness Webinar, “Ankle Instability” hosted by Barton Orthopedics & Wellness Foot and Ankle Specialist, Dr. Ryan, is available at To learn more about personalized rehabilitation programs that improve body mechanics, range of motion, and getting back to favorite activities, visit or call 530-539-6600.

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