Run Without Limits: How to Prevent and Manage Ankle Pain In Runners

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Dealing with ankle pain is a common concern for many runners. If left unaddressed, it can become a persistent issue that affects your running performance and overall mobility. The key to managing ankle pain effectively is prevention.

By taking the right steps to prevent ankle issues, you can reduce soreness and discomfort and maintain your running health.

In this article, we’ll explore important information about the ankle joint and share tips on preventing and managing ankle pain.

So, let’s dive in and discover how to keep your ankles in great shape for running!

The Ankle Joint

The ankle joint is a sophisticated and intricate structure composed of various components, including bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. This joint’s primary components are the fibula, tibia, and talus bones, which work in unison to create the ankle joint.

Specifically, the ankle joint is formed at the talocrural joint, which serves as a synovial hinge joint that connects the distal ends of both the fibula and tibia in the lower limb. This complex arrangement allows for the ankle’s pivotal range of motion, facilitating actions like walking, running, and various weight-bearing activities.

The Primary Movements

The ankle joint is responsible for facilitating several key movements that are essential for various activities, especially in runners:

  • Plantarflexion: This motion involves moving the foot away from the body, pointing the toes downward.
  • Dorsiflexion: This movement brings the foot closer to the body, flexing the ankle and pointing the toes upward. Additionally, the ankle joint allows for side-to-side movements, primarily:
  • Eversion: Turning the sole of the foot outward.
  • Inversion: Turning the sole of the foot inward.

While these movements are crucial for activities like walking, running, and jumping, the ankle joint often bears a significant amount of weight during weight-bearing activities. For runners, this can lead to a heightened risk of ankle injuries.

To put this into perspective, research from the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal reveals that the average runner takes approximately 1,700 steps per mile when maintaining a pace of 10 minutes per mile.

The exact number of steps can vary based on factors like stride length, height, and running speed, but it underscores the substantial stress placed on the ankle joints during running.

As a result, runners may encounter ankle issues from time to time, with ankle sprains being a common concern.

Ankle sprains are prevalent, with approximately 25,000 Americans experiencing a sprained ankle daily. Research from the University of Bern in Switzerland also highlights that ankle injuries account for around 30 percent of all running-related injuries.

How To Prevent Ankle Pain In Runners

Without further ado, here’s how to prevent ankle pain in runners.

Strengthen Your Ankle Joint

Strengthening the muscles around your ankle joint is essential for maintaining stability and preventing potential issues, especially for runners who may experience ankle instability. Weakness in the ankle muscles, particularly those on the outer side, can increase the risk of pain and injuries.

To ensure a well-rounded approach to strengthening your ankles, focus on exercises that target all four directions of ankle movement: dorsiflexion (lifting the toes toward your shin), plantar flexion (pointing the toes away from your shin), eversion (turning the sole of the foot outward), and inversion (turning the sole of the foot inward).

Aim to incorporate these exercises into your routine by performing 12 to 16 repetitions of each exercise three times a week for a duration of two months. If you frequently run on trails or uneven terrain, consider increasing the frequency of these exercises to build greater ankle strength and stability.

Here are four effective ankle-strengthening exercises to include in your routine:

  • Ankle Circles: Perform controlled circular motions with your ankles, both clockwise and counterclockwise, to work on a range of motion and stability.
  • Ankle Alphabet: Write the letters of the alphabet in the air with your toes to engage different ankle movements and enhance muscle strength.
  • Calf Raises: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then raise your heels as high as you can while keeping the balls of your feet on the ground. Lower your heels back down and repeat.
  • Shin Raises: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Place your hands on the floor slightly behind your hips, fingers pointing away from your body. Lift your toes and the front of your feet off the ground as high as possible while keeping your heels on the floor. Lower your toes back down and repeat.

Balance Training

In addition to strengthening the muscles around your ankles, it’s crucial to improve your proprioception, which is your body’s ability to maintain balance and control in various positions. Strong muscles alone may not be sufficient if your proprioception is lacking, so incorporating balance training into your routine is essential for overall ankle stability.

Balance training involves the coordination of muscles and the brain to provide better support and stability to the ankle joint. Here are some balance training exercises to help enhance your ankle proprioception:

  • Single-Leg Balance: Stand on one leg and try to maintain your balance for one minute. To make it more challenging, you can close your eyes or perform this exercise on an uneven surface.
  • Unstable Surface Balancing: Take your balance training to the next level by practicing on unstable surfaces like a dynamic disc, foam pad, or Bosu ball. Balancing on these surfaces forces your muscles and nervous system to work harder to maintain stability.
  • Wobble Board Exercises: Wobble boards are specialized tools designed for balance training. You can perform various exercises on a wobble board, such as balancing on one leg while tilting the board in different directions.

By consistently incorporating these balance training exercises into your routine, you’ll not only strengthen your ankle muscles but also improve your proprioception, ultimately enhancing your overall ankle stability. This can be particularly beneficial for runners, as it helps reduce the risk of ankle injuries and improves running efficiency.

Avoid Running On Uneven Surfaces

Running on uneven surfaces, like trails with tree stumps, rocks, and roots, can increase the risk of ankle sprains and contribute to ankle pain. To prevent this, it’s best to stick to smoother terrains like dirt and even roads, especially if you have chronic ankle pain.

Choose your running surface wisely and be cautious when encountering hills with loose gravel and rocky terrain to protect your ankles and prevent potential injuries.

Cropped shot of a young man holding his ankle in pain while running.

Run In The Right Shoes

Going for running shoes that match your foot type and the terrain you’ll be running on is crucial. For individuals with pronation or low arches, opt for shoes that offer ample support in the front and under the arch, with a stable heel and heel counter.

Choosing shoes with good grip and a low profile can help prevent ankle injuries on slippery or technical surfaces.

Additionally, remember to replace your running shoes when the heels or tread show signs of wear and tear, typically every four to six months or after covering around 400 to 500 miles to maintain optimal performance and reduce the risk of ankle pain and injuries.


Overuse is a common culprit when it comes to ankle pain in runners. Pushing your body too hard, logging excessive miles, and overtraining can strain your muscles and increase the risk of injuries like strains, sprains, and inflammation.

To prevent overuse injuries, it’s essential to gradually increase your training load, incorporate rest days into your routine, and listen to your body’s signals. If you experience persistent ankle pain during or after running, it’s crucial to reduce your training intensity or take a break to allow for proper recovery.

If the pain persists despite rest and self-care measures, it’s advisable to consult a medical professional to rule out any underlying injuries or conditions.

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