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Why Does My Ankle Hurt When I Run?

Almost any way you slice it, running is very good for your overall health and rather hard on your ankles. In most cases, the former far outweighs the latter, because running has lifelong benefits and only occasional injuries. To help push the odds even further in your favor, try of the 13 best ankle braces for running.

Yet no matter how many precautions you take, or don’t take, ankle injuries are nearly inevitable for most regular runners. Understanding the nature and extent of these injuries is the first step towards a successful rehabilitation. If you ankle hurts when you run, it’s probably because of one of these three conditions.

Achilles Tendonitis

In Greek mythology, Achilles could not be hurt except for the tendon which ran from the back of his foot to the back of his leg. As luck or fate would have it, he sustained a battle wound on that exact location and later died.

This condition is one of the most common running injuries. It especially affects men in their 30s and 40s. Any tendonitis usually causes a dull, throbbing pain that often subsides after the body warms up; many tendonitis patients also experience unexplained popping and cracking sounds when they walk or run. Regardless of the level or intensity of the pain, as the tendon becomes increasingly irritated, it will eventually rupture.

Characterizing Achilles tendonitis as an “overuse” injury tells part of the story, but may also be slightly misleading. After all, you placed the same amount of stress on the uninjured ankle. Improper gait often places more stress on one ankle than on the other one, and underdeveloped leg or calf muscles have the same effect.

So, proper rehabilitation should take all these factors into account, because if it does not, the injury will likely recur.

  • Strength Exercises: Building up the thigh and other leg muscles will take pressure off the Achilles tendon and therefore reduce the chances for tendonitis. Post-running stretches usually help as well.

  • Gait Issues: Some people obsess over toe, heel, or midfoot strikes, but they are all about the same. Instead, make sure your running posture is erect, lean into each stride with your hips, and increase the number of steps you take by about ten percent.

  • Injections: If the tendonitis was bad enough to take you off your feet for more than a day or so, it was probably bad enough to go to the doctor and receive some anti-inflammatory injections.

Additionally, the RICE method (rest the muscle, ice the area frequently, use a compression wrap, and keep the area elevated) often works well.

Ankle Impingement

If your ankle is immobile to the extent that you cannot squat all the way down, you probably have an ankle impingement (pinching) injury. Sometimes this injury is quite painful and sometimes it is barely noticeable, but it is always potentially serious, mostly because the condition is usually degenerative.

These injuries are not easy to rehab. The best approach is to strengthen the joints in the ankle and foot to reduce the pressure, but there are almost two dozen joints in this area. Many people see results from forward ankle bends with resistance bands and other such exercises. The other rehab methods discussed above are often effective as well.

Chronic Ankle Instability

If you’ve turned your ankle more than twice in your lifetime or have suffered more than five ankle injuries over the years, you probably have chronically unstable ankles. This condition significantly increases the risk of Achilles tendonitis, ankle impingement, and other such injuries. There are two types of CAI:

  • Mechanical Instability: Some people have genetically weak tendons, or there are other objective issues that affect ankle strength.

  • Idiopathic Instability: “Idiopathic” anything usually means that the cause cannot be determined. In this situation, some people just have weak ankles and there is no specific reason why.

Mechanical instability is much easier to address because it’s possible to determine the weak point. Deep massages in the affected area are usually very effective. As for idiopathic cases, it’s normally best to strengthen the entire ankle with resistance band exercises and other such items.

These ankle injuries are not terribly serious, but they usually get worse if not properly treated, so be aware of what your foot is telling you.

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