The ankle joints play a pivotal role in our daily activities. Proper ankle posture, positioning, and health are essential for biomechanical efficiency and overall stability of the body.
The lower leg consists of two bones — the tibia and the fibula. The foot consists of multiple bones. “The leg and foot are connected by the ankle,” says Dr Avishek Das, consultant orthopedician, Manipal Hospitals, Salt Lake, Kolkata. The ankle is supple and allows good movement, gives us the opportunity and potential to walk, run, jump, and do whatever we want to do in our daily life.”
What makes ankle joints strong and stable?
Ligaments: “The ankle joint is surrounded by a group of muscles and ligaments, which helps in the movement of our legs and foot,” says Dr Das. These ligaments, strong fibrous bands surrounding the ankle joint, provide stability and limit excessive motion. “There are ligaments on the front, back, and both sides of the ankle. A combination of all the muscles and ligaments around the ankle joint enables us to do other daily activities.”
Key ligaments include the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL), and calcaneofibular ligament (CFL).
Muscles: The muscles of the lower leg, including the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), play a significant role in ankle stability. These muscles help control movements and provide strength to the joint.
Tendons: The Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone, is important for ankle stability and mobility.
Biomechanical attributes of ankle joints
Ankles are vulnerable to injury due to their complex anatomy and frequent stress.
“Ankles primarily allow larger movement in the sagittal plane (anatomical plane dividing the body into left and right sections) dorsiflexion (foot moving inward towards the shin) and plantarflexion (pointing the toes downward). These are required whenever you are walking, jumping, or running,” informs Dr Das.
Poor ankle posture, characterized by issues including pronation (inward rolling) or supination (outward rolling), can lead to biomechanical weaknesses, instability, and a higher risk of injuries, such as sprains or strains.
Biomechanical strength of ankles
When all the components of the ankle joint work harmoniously, it will remain biomechanically strong and capable of withstanding the weight of your whole body. Besides, it makes everyday activities pain-free. With proper alignment and muscle balance, you can maintain the joint’s stability and stay injury-free by preventing excessive pronation or supination, which can lead to injuries.
Ankle joint weaknesses
Weak or imbalanced muscles, poor proprioception (awareness of joint position), and inadequate flexibility can easily compromise the ankle’s stability, making it prone to injuries. “Your body weight is transmitted to the floor through the ankle. So you have to ensure proper ankle position when it touches the ground,” says Das.
Moreover, while the ankle allows small side-to-side movements, it is prone to injury. If you are playing or jumping, and happen to land on either the outer or inner side of the foot, you may twist your ankle. This may result in ligament injuries,” explains Dr Das.
Ligamentous laxity or previous injuries can further weaken the joint’s stability, increasing the risk of sprains or strains.
How to care for the ankle joints
The versatile movement of the ankle can easily be controlled by being aware of the joint’s movements. Dr Das reminds, “Whenever you jump and land, ensure that your foot is in a neutral position, otherwise you’ll end up injuring your ligaments.”
Moreover, when it comes to the ankle, proper footwear is the difference between an injury and a victory. “We need to use good footwear whenever we are walking for long durations, jogging, jumping, or working out in the gym. It is crucial to wear well-fitting and well-padded shoes to protect the ankles and feet from injury,” says Dr Das.
Another common reason for the recurrence of injuries is that we casually bush away ankle twists and sprains. “Most of us believe that strains or sprains are minor injuries that heal after rest and icing,” shares Dr Das. “Only if we feel it is severe do we get an x-ray and check for any bone damage. We are mostly assured that the ankle will be fine.”
According to a research paper published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the instability of the ankle results from acute ligament injuries and may become chronic when complete healing does not occur. Chronic instability syndrome may manifest with recurrent injuries that cause chronic lateral pain, tenderness, swelling, or induration (thickening of the skin). This could lead to great difficulties in playing sports or even performing daily activities.
“Post-injury, you need to perform certain exercises, such as strengthening and mobility exercises to get the ankle back to its normal strength and functionality. If not, you will tend to hurt your ankle more often,” says Dr Das.
- The leg and foot are connected by the ankle joint. This is surrounded by a group of muscles and ligaments that enable us to walk or run and do other daily activities.
- Ankles are vulnerable to injury due to their complex anatomy and frequent stress.
- Poor ankle posture, characterized by issues like pronation or supination can lead to biomechanical weaknesses, instability, and a higher risk of injuries.
- Awareness of one’s ankle, good jumping and landing technique, regular exercise and strengthening, and being proactive in rehabilitating any injury will ensure you have strong and functional ankles.