5 Ways to Strengthen Weak Ankles and Prevent Ankle Injuries

Prevent Ankle Injuries: 5 Ways to Prevent Ankle Injuries

5 Ways to Prevent Ankle Injuries

Ankle injuries are one of the most common injuries among athletes. While it is impossible to completely prevent ankle injuries, taking precautionary measures before exercising can help limit the risks. Listed below are stretches to help strengthen and loosen up the muscles around the ankles. These exercises are great for both preventing injuries from happening and helping you recover from an existing injury:

  1. Peroneal Stretches

    One of the most important muscles to strengthen during any recovery or prevention of an ankle sprain is the peroneal muscle. These muscles extend from the top of the knee all the way down to where they attach at the bottom of the foot.

    The exercise is easy: Gently roll onto the outside of your feet and walk around for 60 seconds. This helps strengthen your ankle muscles and gives them additional flexibility.

  2. Ankle Circles

    This simple exercise will help strengthen the muscles in and around the ankle, improving the joints stability. You can either sit on a chair or stand for this conditioning.

    Extend your leg straight out, without bending the knee. Rotate your foot clockwise 10 to 20 times, rest leg for 5 seconds, and raise it again to rotate counterclockwise 10 to 20 times. Alternate legs and do 3 or 4 sets per side.

  3. Dorsiflexion Stretches

    The Dorsiflexion stretch is crucial amongst runners. This stretch is responsible for strengthening the muscles that run along the shin of the leg, called the Anterior Tibialis. This muscle is what controls the up and down movements of the toes. Therefore, strengthening this muscle will not only help prevent shin splints, but can also help protect the muscles and tendons in the ankle.

    First, sit on the floor with your right leg straight out and the left leg crossed, with the sole of your left foot resting against the inside of your right leg. Place a towel or band around the ball of the right foot and gently pull your toes back toward you. Hold for 15 seconds, repeat the stretch 4 times, and then switch legs.

  4. Write the Alphabet

    This exercise is as easy as reciting the alphabet! All you are doing is tracing every letter of the alphabet with your big toe. This exercise is best if you are seated in a chair.

    Hold your right leg straight out in front. Using your big toe as the “pen”, first write each letter of the alphabet in all capital letters. The same process again with lower case letters, then switch feet and repeat. Writing the alphabet is a challenging exercise that will help strengthen both of your ankles!

  5. Achilles Stretches

    Rupturing the Achilles tendon can set you back for quite a while. By doing regular Achilles stretches, you can help limit the risk of rupturing the tendon and help improve flexibility.

    From a standing position, bend the knee of your left leg at a 45 degree angle. Step the right leg back and keep it straight. Ground the heel of your right foot and push the hips forward. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch legs, repeating 2 to 4 sets on each leg.

Athletes at Risk

At our Mission Valley Office, we see many athletes with injured ankles including: ballet dancers, MMA fighters, soccer players, baseball players, and foot ball players. It is important to perform the above mentioned exercises to help prevent ankle injuries. If you are currently experiencing an injury to the ankle, please schedule with our certified sports chiropractors today!

Lateral Demipointe Compressed - Xray of Ankle



Posterior ankle impingement is a common cause of pain in ballet dancers.   Other names for this condition are “os trigonum syndrome” and “nutcracker syndrome”.  It is called “nutcracker syndrome” not because of its common occurrence in ballet at Christmas-time but because of the way the tissue of the ankle is squeezed at the ankle.  The following is a brief overview of this condition and how it relates to dancers.

Posterior impingement of the ankle is often attributable to the presence of an accessory bone growth called an os trigonum or a Stieda process that is located just behind the talus (see x-ray for anatomy).   The stress from repetitive plantarflexion by dancers, especially at a young age, is the suspected cause of the development of the os trigonum.  Pain in posterior impingement occurs when the soft tissue of the ankle is pinched between the posterior lip of the tibia and the calcaneus.  This occurs when the foot is in extreme plantarflexion such as during releve in the demipointe or en pointe positions.Lateral Demipointe Compressed - XRay of Ankle

Proper diagnosis of posterior impingement is imperative for recovery from this injury.  Posterior impingement attributable to an os trigonum is usually misdiagnosed as Achilles’ tendonitis/tendonopathy, peroneal tendonitis or flexor hallucis longus strain. The two main symptoms of posterior impingement are a decrease in plantarflexion compared with the unaffected ankle and pain in the posterior region of the ankle.  Often dancers are aware of a lack of ability to fully pointe in one foot compared to the other, this may be an early sign of impingement.   Another common description dancer’s use is it feels like pinching in the heel during releve.  Diagnosis is often aided by x-Rays of the ankle.  It is best to request an x-ray to be taken during releve to evaluate the biomechanics of the injury.  If there has been persistent pain for a period of 1– 4 months, local swelling, and radiographic assessment indicating a posterior ankle impingement, then an MRI should be performed.

Once posterior impingement is diagnosed focused treatment should begin.  Non-surgical care is usually successful and should be the first line treatment.  Treatment should be focused on taking pressure off of the tissue being pinched.  Exercises should focus on engaging the deep muscles of the leg especially the deep flexors.  One exercise that is helpful and can be done at home is a self traction maneuver with plantarflexion (see picture).  The patient holds his or her ankle, as shown, with downward pressure and performs the motion with a bent knee.  Bending the knee helps disengage the gastrocnemius muscle and soleus forcing the deep flexors to engage. Post Impingement Exercise Compressed Another great exercise is ankle range of motion with traction applied by a therapist using very strong elastic bands.  Dancers may experience relief with traction and feel they are able to fully plantarflex; this can also be a good way to support the diagnosis as Achilles’ tendonitis is often unchanged with traction.  Manipulation of the ankle especially the talus can provide relief as well. Conservative therapy is successful in the majority of cases. Recovery may take several months.

A surgical approach should only be adopted in the following cases:

  • recurrent or unremitting symptoms in professional ballet dancers;
  • persistent decreased plantarflexion compared with the unaffected ankle;
  • failure of physical and medical therapies after 1– 4 months (depending on the level of the athlete/dancer);
  • posterior impingement clinically suspected and indicated by both x-ray and MRI.


Ankle pain and heel pain is a common symptom in dancers and posterior impingement is only one of the causes. If you think you may be suffering from posterior impingement seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional with expertise in dance injury.


-Dr. Rose, DC, CCSP®

Dr. Rose is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner® with experience in dance medicine.  He is currently Director of Physical Rehabilitation at Ballet San Jose and a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science.





Albisetti W, Ometti M, Pascale V, De Bartolomeo O: Clinical evaluation and treatment of posterior impingement in dancers. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2009;88:349–354.

Niek van Dijk C: Anterior and posterior ankle impingement. Foot Ankle Clin 2006;11:663– 83

F Cilli, M Akcaoglu: The incidence of accessory bones of the foot and their clinical significance. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc 2005;39:243– 6

Stretching Aerobics


Dancer in ActionBallet dancers are widely known for their superior body control in various challenging body positions.  In fact it has been found in recent studies that ballet dancers have better postural control when compared to other elite athletes. However, what has not been examined is the effect of injury on postural balance in dancers.  A recent study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine by Lin, et al, addresses this vary issue.

Postural balance requires a combination of several different sensory inputs: visual, vestibular (inner ear), and somatosensory (from the skin, joints, muscles, etc). Somatosensory input gives the brain information about where the body is in space; this is called proprioception.  These sensors can be damaged with ligamentous and muscular injuries such as ankle sprains and in turn lead to a deficit in proprioception.  Proprioceptive deficits can put a dancer at more risk for re-injury or new injury.

The recent study by Lin was the first study that evaluated stability in dancers in ballet specific postures following an injury. Three different groups were studied: healthy dancers, injured dancers (with sprained ankles), and health non-dancers.  Postural stability was evaluated on a balance sensor that monitors subtle deviations in stability.  This was done with the eyes open and then again with the eyes closed to further stress the proprioceptive component of balance.  As expected the injured dancers had decreased control not only in ballet specific positions but also in a simple single leg standing position when compared to healthy dancers. Surprisingly the injured dancers had worse stability control than the non-dancers.  Many dancers, and other athletes, that I have treated often assume that a skill such as balancing will come back without training, however this is not the case, and as the study indicated it regresses to the point that is worse than untrained people.Ankle

The postural deficits were most notable in side to side control with single leg standing and front to back control with first and fifth position.  Compensation was noted at the knee and hip joints in an attempt to make up for the injured ankle.  The en pointe position crated the most stability issues; injured dancers were inferior in all directions of stability.  With lateral ankle sprains the most commonly damaged ligament is the anterior talofibular ligament. This ligament is stressed maximally when the ankle is plantar flexed, such as during en pointe positions.  It is not surprising that when this ligament is damaged the proprioception during pointe is significantly disturbed.

This study brings to light the importance of a thorough rehabilitation program that includes proprioceptive training in ballet specific positions.  Typically a sprained ankle takes 6-8 weeks to recover.  During this time it is critical to begin proprioceptive training to ensure that the balance deficits do not lead to further injury.  Additionally if a dancer has a past injury of ankle sprain without proper rehabilitation it is likely that postural stability still remains and there is an increased risk to further injury.  If this is the case, dancers should begin a 3-4 week proprioceptive training plan that includes ballet specific posture.

Dance injuries and rehabilitation are unique and should be managed by a healthcare practitioner that is experienced with the subtleties of dance medicine.  Proprioception training for ballet typically includes balance exercises on an unstable surface such as a Bosu ball or stability disc.  These exercises should be done in normal stance position as well as ballet specific positions.  Whole body vibration may additionally add value as a proprioceptive trainer especially early during rehab when range of motion is limited.  KinesioTape or RockTape are also good taping methods that help protect the joint and provide increased proprioception when applied properly. Keep in mind that a training plan should be designed specifically for each injury and you should not attempt to manage the injury without the supervision of an experienced healthcare practitioner.

Ankle Kinesio Tape

Kinesiology Tape for Dancers

Many dance medicine specialists and dancers have begun to use Kinesiotape as a staple to manage their injuries.  Developed Ankle Kinesio Tapemore than 25 years ago in Japan by chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase, the Kinesiotape method drew worldwide interest when the U.S. Olympic volleyball player Kerri Walsh wore the tape to support her shoulder during the 2008 Games in Beijing. Now many elite athletes, including dancers use Kinesiotape.  Unlike traditional athletic tape, the latex-free Kinesio stretches easily, and permits greater range of motion, making it popular with dancers. It allows the dancer to perform while still protecting them from further injury. “The old way of taping was stiff and tried to support ligaments, but we have learned it gave less support than we suspected,” says Dr. Rebecca Clearman, M.D, “Kinesiotape, on the other hand, helps dancers self-correct. (For instance) if a dancer is hyper-extending, it can serve as a reminder at the end of the range to not go as far.”

Kinesiotape can be used to stimulate or relax a muscle, depending on the direction of the recoil of the stretched tap. Whether relaxing or activating, the tape gets placed along the line of the muscle. For activating, the direction of the tape goes from muscle origin to insertion. The tape’s degree of stretch determines the strength of the recoil action, so each application can be tailored to a dancer’s needs.

It’s like a brace, but better, because of it allows greater range of motion and also provides proprioceptive input (joint balance). Kinesiotape comes in a variety of brands and can be purchased by the consumer, however initially the tape should be applied by a dance medicine professional with knowledge of dance mechanics.  After several sessions the injured dancer can learn to put the tape on properly by himself/herself.

Kinesiotape is not a magic bullet. Proper diagnosis of the injury by a qualified healthcare professional is always the first step and during recovery, proper rehabilitation and correction of biomechanical errors are keys.

-Dr. Rose is a San Diego Chiropractor and a Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner®.  He is a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Sciences and has experience with ballet dancers from youth to professional.

Stretching Aerobics

Preventing Dance Injuries

The Dancer in Actionphysical demands placed on the bodies of dancers have been shown to make them just as susceptible to injury as football players.  For this reason, more emphasis should be placed on creating awareness of risk and preventing injuries in dancers.  Most dancers begin dancing at a young age, the repetitive practice of movements that require extreme flexibility, strength, and endurance make them prime candidates for overuse injuries.  In fact, there is little doubt that the vast majority of injuries are the result of overuse rather than trauma. These injuries tend to occur at the foot, ankle, lower leg, low back, and hip. These injuries show up with greater frequency in dancers as they age, so it is extremely important to emphasize what the young dancer can do to prevent future injuries.



Dancers are exposed to a wide range of risk factors for injury. The most common issues that cause dance injuries include:

  • Type of dance and frequency of classes, rehearsals, and performances
  • Duration of training
  • Environmental conditions such as hard floors and cold studio
  • Equipment used, especially shoes
  • Individual dancer’s body alignment
  • Prior history of injury
  • Nutritional deficiencies

How to Prevent Dance Injuries

Getting and keeping dancers free of injury in a fun environment is key to helping them enjoy a lifetime of physical activity and dance. With a few simple steps, and some teamwork among parents, teachers and health professionals, dancers can keep on their toes and in the studio with a healthy body.

Key Points

Dancers should remember a few key things to prevent injury:

  • Wear properly fitting clothing and shoes
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Resist the temptation to dance through pain
  • Pay close attention to correct technique
  • Be mindful of the limits of your body and do not push too fast too soon
  • Perform proper warm-up and cool-down

Parental Oversight

Parents play a large role in injury prevention. First, they must be careful not to encourage their children to advance to higher levels of training at an unsafe rate. Specific to ballet, parents should ensure that the decision to begin pointe training is not made before the child’s feet and ankles develop enough strength. Age 12 is the generally accepted lower limit, but strength and maturity are more important than age.

Proper Instruction

The first line-of-defense to prevent injuries may be dance instructors. From the onset of instruction teachers should establish a class environment where students are not afraid to share that they are injured and need a break. Students should also be consistently instructed on the importance of warm-ups and cool-downs, proper equipment, and at what point, whether by age or maturity, it is appropriate to move on to the next level of dance.

Health Care and Screening

Health professionals play a significant role not only in treating and rehabilitating the injuries dancers incur, but also in preventing them. Dancers respond well to providers who respect both the aesthetics and intensity of dance. Experienced providers can initiate and facilitate screening sessions for dancers to help identify potential problems and prevent future injuries. They should be considered a natural part of a dancer’s career and sources of insight into staying healthy. A dancer should return after an injury only when clearance is granted by a health care professional.


Clippinger, K. Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007.

Howse, J. Dance Technique and Injury Prevention. 3rd ed. London: A & C Black, 2000.

Solomon, R, J. Solomon, and SC Minton. Preventing Dance Injuries. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2005.





Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation

At Proform Sports Chiropractic, we help create lifelong musculoskeletal health, emphasizing physical activity and exercise throughout life. Our goal is to prevent injury and achieve optimal health, mobility, and quality of life throughout each person’s lifespan.

Our two primary areas of interest are musculoskeletal injury prevention and rehabilitation. Our offfice focuses on on injury prevention and on effective treatment and rehabilitation that are essential to putting the person back on the path to optimal health.