4 Everyday Habits That Hurt Your Ankles

HHere’s an analogy for you: If your body is a baseball diamond, your foot and ankle complex is home base. As such, you cannot win in life without keeping them healthy and functioning at their best. Yet there are everyday habits that hurt your ankles and you may not even know they’re causing the damage.

In short: “We need a stable platform to come back to as our home base,” says physical therapist Emily Tomlinson, DPT, co-founder of Thrice Physioga, a fitness platform that combines yoga with physical therapy principles. “Our ankles play a really important role in carrying our whole body and stacking it up on that stable platform. They’re also really important in our response to where our body is in space. They help us adapt.”

So for example, says Dr. Tomlinson, if we’re on an uneven surface, the input our brain receives through our ankles helps keep our body upright. “If we miss a step, the information we get from our ankle joint helps us mobilize the rest of our body so we don’t fall,” she says.

Additionally, our ankles play an important role in daily movement. “It plays a role in our ability to adapt to stepping off a curb, but it plays a huge role in our ability to step over a curb, go up and down stairs, get up from a chair, or sit down. Chair, “It plays a role in an efficient walking pattern,” says Dr. Tomlinson. It plays a role in an efficient running pattern. It even plays an important role in the ability to lift something off the ground or squat to pick something up. So yes, we rely on our ankle joint for all these activities we do throughout the day.”

Because we can use our ankles so often without giving it much thought, it’s common for people to adopt daily habits that compromise the integrity of the ankle joint and prevent it from moving at its best. These behaviors may not cause injury, but they can compromise our movement patterns over time.

“If we lose the ankle joint’s ability to adapt and become mobile and stable, other joints in the body try to loosen up,” says Dr. Tomlinson. “So we might end up with knee pain, foot pain or toe pain—or even hip pain or back pain. But if we can bring awareness to moving throughout the day, we can definitely help to have a healthier, more adaptive ankle joint. “

Below, Dr. Tomlinson shares four daily habits that hurt your ankles, and she says simple changes can help you maintain a solid home foundation.

1. Uneven weight transfer

This is the person who constantly leans on one hip, standing on one leg higher than the other. “You’re increasing the load on that side,” says Dr. Tomlinson. “So you’re putting more stress and strain on the joints, on the muscles, on the tendons, on those ankle ligaments.”

Dr. Tomlinson says it also changes the way we distribute forces and loads throughout our bodies. “It’s just put on one side or most of it on that one side—it’s a lot of wear and tear,” she says, “and that effect goes all the way down to the lower limbs and even the hips trunk, the rest of the body.”

Her tweak: “Mindfully distribute the load evenly between both legs,” she says. Whether you’re brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea, take a moment to take stock: are you leaning on one side, or are you splitting your weight evenly between both legs?

2. Putting more weight on the outside of your foot

“I often see this in younger women because they can be a little more flexible so they’re looking for stability by hanging on the pinky side of their foot,” says Dr. Tomlinson. “And that puts more strain and stress on the ligaments that are often sprained in the ankle. We’re overstretching the muscles.”

Dr. Tomlinson says this habit is usually associated with hyperextending the knee, which also puts unnecessary stress on that joint. And while he says most people engage in these two behaviors because they’re seeking stability, both ultimately have the opposite effect.

Her tweak: “Grounding through the thumb,” says Dr. Tomlinson. This will balance the load more evenly on the legs.

3. Squeezing the toes

“These are people who are constantly flexing the toes, and again they’re looking for stability, but it’s because of a very stiff foot and ankle,” says Dr. Tomlinson. Over time, he says, toe-clutching changes our ability to get adaptive ankles—necessary for uneven surfaces and everyday movement—and it disrupts the lines of communication that tell us where our bodies are in space.

Wearing flip flops encourages this bad habit, as we have to hold on to the sandals when we walk, says Dr. Tomlinson. “So we’re overworking, we’re overusing those toes, we’re not sharing the load through the ankle.”

Dr. Tomlinson’s tweak: “The first is becoming aware and releasing the toes, and then the second is manual mobilization: using your hands or a massage ball to bring the foot out and bring more mobility through the toes, feet, and ankles.”

4. Wearing high heels

According to Dr. Tomlinson, wearing heels higher than an inch and a half puts you in a foot and ankle position—and that’s the most common position to sprain your ankle. “So we’re already setting ourselves up for unstable ankle positions in high heels,” she says “Then we ask our legs to work harder to find stability.”

This doesn’t mean you can never wear heels. “My message is definitely don’t wear high heels or flip flops,” says Dr. Tomlinson. “If you wear them, you have to tend to the feet and ankles.”

Her tweak: Rolling out and stretching your legs and ankles—before and after wearing high heels. “It’s restoring your leg mobility and then stretching those larger calf muscles,” she says. You can do this manually or with a massage ball, foam roller or percussion massager. “Your body had to work harder to keep you safe and stable,” says Dr. Tomlinson. So it seems only fair to offer some extra TLC.

Making these small adjustments to your daily routine can help you avoid ankle injuries, but if you really want extra credit, you’ll want to incorporate foot and ankle exercises into your fitness routine to make sure you have what Dr. Tomlinson calls a powerful movement. Food “We want to go on different planes,” she says. “We want to shift the weight differently; we want to rotate so that we create that adaptive, mobile and stable ankle joint.” That way, you’ll cover all your bases.

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