Emerging from hibernation, many of us become more active as the days get longer and warmer and Lake Country transitions from winter to summer.
With this switch from slippers to running shoes, treadmill to the trail, and indoor court to outdoor field our feet and ankles are exposed to new environments and new potential injuries. With an increase in the use of ankles and feet and the change in terrain from a flat indoor surface to gravel or grass, you may be at a higher risk of spraining your ankle or developing a painful foot condition known as plantar fasciitis.
To provide you with a bit of background information, an ankle sprain results when the ligaments in your ankle are stretched beyond their normal limit. The most common type of ankle sprain occurs when you roll onto the outer edge of your foot. This happens when you place your foot down in an improper manner on an uneven or unstable surface and the muscles do not react quickly enough to prevent the stretching of the ligaments.
An ankle sprain typically produces instantaneous pain and inflammation and can result in chronic instability of the ankle.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissue on the bottom of your foot due to a change in the stresses placed on your feet. The pain from this condition can worsen over time and can occur due to a length and strength imbalance in the foot and calf and lack of supportive footwear.
These injuries can lead to recurrent ankle and foot pain, so the best line of defense is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
All of the muscles, ligaments and joints in our feet and ankles have sensors that help us with our balance. These sensors tell our brain where our feet are in space. Our brain then sends a signal to contract our muscles so we stay in an upright position.
When we aren’t doing activities that challenge these sensors or muscles they take a nap.
This isn’t a problem if we are walking and running on predictable surfaces like a treadmill, but if we are going to rely on these sensors to maneuver the new outdoor environment we must wake them up.
You can start training in your home by standing on a few pillows while balancing on one foot. This imitates the unstable surface you may encounter outdoors.
You can progress the exercise by lifting up on to your toes with both feet and then one at a time. This exercise also helps to strengthen the muscles that form the arch of your foot, which is important in preventing plantar fasciitis.
If you really want a challenge you can throw or kick a ball against the wall while standing on one foot on the pillows. Once you’re ready to take it outside, simple agility exercises like skipping rope, jumping onto steps and ladder drills are an excellent ways to train your muscles to react in unpredictable situations.
Before jumping back into that first soccer game of the season or taking your first long run in the beautiful outdoors start by strengthening the muscles of your ankle and arches. Your muscles will be able to handle the increase in activity, stabilize your ankle by responding quickly to the change in terrain, and prevent injury.
You also want to make sure that you are stretching your calf muscles to avoid over pronation (inward turning) of the foot, as this leads to an overuse of the arch muscles and places more stress on the tissue in the bottom of your feet.
Proper footwear to support your arches is also important.
Most running shoes are equipped with a good amount of arch support but depending on the shape of your foot you may need a little extra.
Despite our efforts, sometimes the forces of nature are stronger than our will and we still manage to hurt ourselves.
If you experience ankle or foot pain this spring or summer visit your local healthcare professional sooner than later to prevent an acute injury from progressing to a chronic condition so you can get back out to that beautiful Okanagan weather as soon as possible.