Want to Improve Your Balance? Start with Strengthening Your Ankles


Do you
sometimes feel unsteady on your feet? Would you say your balance isn’t as good
as it used to be? Have you thought that weak ankles could be contributing to
your balance difficulties?

The answer
is yes, and I’ll explain why. I will also share two exercises you can do at
home to strengthen your ankles and improve your balance.

There are
many reasons why we struggle with our balance as we get older. These can
include:

  • Vertigo (which can be caused by inner
    ear issues),
  • Medications (many have side effects
    that can influence your balance),
  • Neurological conditions (including
    Parkinson’s and MS), and
  • Foot pain or problems (including nerve
    damage from diabetes).

Regardless
of the reason you are having trouble with your balance (and you may not find
one reason), strengthening your ankles will almost certainly help improve your
situation.

Quick
note: If you are worried about your balance, it might
help to see your doctor
and discuss the issue with him/her.

When we
need to control our balance and stay steady, our ankles are the first part of
our body to help us do so. The ankle muscles fire up as our first balance
response.

So, when we stand upright and are just swaying slowly through a small range of motion, our ankles are maintaining our balance.

Because
the amount of force that these muscles can generate is small, the ankles can
only maintain our balance for a while. However, we need that initial response
at the ankle for maintaining our balance in many everyday situations.

With more substantial balance challenges, we need to bring in other postural control strategies.

For an
effective ankle strategy, we need adequate strength and stability in the ankle
joint. Performing targeted ankle strength exercises will build this stability
and ensure our ankles can successfully work to help us maintain our balance.

Once you
start doing these, you will be surprised at how difficult they are – “I did not
know that my ankles were so important,” is one comment I hear a lot.

These
exercises will also help you with walking well and confidently taking the
stairs.

One great
exercise you can do to strengthen your ankles is the Heel Raise exercise.

The video below
demonstrates and talks you through the Heel Raise. You don’t need any equipment
or special clothing to do this exercise. You should stand facing something you
can hold onto (I am using the back of a chair; you can also use a kitchen
worktop or table).

When you
do the Heel Raise, think about:

  • Standing up tall (imagine there is a
    string pulling you up through the top of your head);
  • Keeping your bottom tucked in;
  • Starting gently and building up
    gradually.

Keep your
weight over the big toe and second toe and aim to move straight up and down.
The most common mistake people make is to roll their ankles out. If you do
this, you won’t get the full benefit and are more likely to injure yourself.

Variations
on this exercise:

  • You can vary the speed at which you go
    up and down.
  • The less you hold on, the more of a
    balance challenge this exercise provides.
  • Doing this on one leg is very
    advanced. But there’s an in-between exercise which works well if you want to
    push yourself a bit harder: Push up on two feet, then lift one foot off the
    floor and come down on one foot only. Alternate legs and go back to two legs
    when it gets too hard!

When you
stand on one leg (or attempt to do so!), you are using all the small,
stabilising muscles around your ankle to keep you steady.

So, this
is a fantastic exercise to strengthen your ankles. It’s also fun and simple.

Follow
along with this short video, to learn how to perform a great one-leg stand for
balance. (Stand next to a chair or other support for this exercise.)

When you
are standing on one leg for balance, think about:

  • Standing up tall.
  • Keeping your body in alignment when you
    transfer your weight onto one leg (Don’t let your hips or upper body shift
    sideways.);
  • Your foot should remain firmly planted
    on the floor.

I hope
that these two exercises will help you toward building stronger ankles for
better balance.

If you want more exercises to improve your balance, take a look at our free, four-week Balance Boost video series. These online videos are short, clear, and easy to follow. They will help you to feel steadier on your feet and more confident.

What’s
the state of your balance? Do you have weak ankles? Where do you notice this
and how does it affect your life? Please join the conversation below!

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.

Let’s Have a Conversation!



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