When you run, your ankles absorb a force that’s more than twice your body weight with every step. And considering that you make around 1,220 steps a kilometre on the average jog, all that force can add up to a painful ankle. From tendonitis to anatomy, here are the most common causes of ankle pain when running and how to fix them.
What causes ankle pain when running?
Sprain. When you twist or roll your ankle while running, you can damage one or more of your ankle ligaments. Generally, it will be the lateral ligaments that are affected (these are the ones on the outside of your ankle). With this injury, you’ll usually get some pain, swelling, redness, and feel like your ankle is a little wobbly. The more severe the sprain, the more intense these symptoms will be.
Tendonitis. Ankle tendonitis is an overuse injury occurring in the ankle tendons, which connect muscles to bones and help you move. Running or training too much without enough rest creates micro tears in the tendon tissue, resulting in irritation, inflammation, and pain. Unlike with a sprain, tendonitis symptoms will often come on gradually and without an apparent injury to the joint.
Stress fracture. The repetitive force running puts on your ankle can cause little cracks to form in the bone.
Anatomy. Your foot and ankle anatomy can also affect how you run, potentially leading to ankle pain. For example, if you have flat feet, your foot will roll slightly outward, which may put increased pressure on your ankle cartilage and bone.
Poor recovery from an old injury. Your ankle pain could also be due to an old, not fully healed injury acting up. Whether you’ve sustained a sprain, strain, or fracture in the past, not taking the necessary precautions can lead to the injury to not healing correctly or completely, resulting in pain down the line.
How to treat ankle pain from running
Get good shoes
First, make sure any shoes you get for your runs are running shoes. They’ll need to have sufficient support in the arch and heel to protect your feet and ankles. Good arch support will be doubly important for running with flat feet.
Second, swap out your shoes every 500-800 kilometres you run. The amount may vary slightly depending on your height, weight, and preferred terrain - but don’t hold on to a pair of sneakers for much longer than that. If you do, you’ll be running on worn-out soles, increasing the stress on your ankles.
Assess your form
How you run may be putting excess pressure on your feet and ankles. So, try adjusting your running form.
- Keep your eyes facing forward
- Keep your back nice and neutral
- Try to land with your foot directly underneath your torso
- Aim for short strides rather than long ones to minimise the force on your feet and ankle. Experts generally recommend running at a rate of 90 strides per minute.
- DO NOT heel strike. Striking the ground heel-first puts you at a higher risk of injury. Instead, aim for a mid-foot strike for more even force distribution.
If your pain is the result of an acute or overuse injury, give your painful joint a few days to heal.
- Rest. Avoid activities that aggravate your symptoms.
- Ice. Apply an ice pack to the joint a few times a day for 15 minutes to reduce swelling.
- Compression. Compressing the area can help protect it and reduce swelling (though more on that later).
- Elevation. Try to prop your affected foot up above heart level as much as possible to improve blood flow through the area.
Wear a brace
You should always protect and gently compress an injured joint. You can do so through a quality ankle brace. For instance, our MalleoTrain’s compression knit fabric:
- Controls the adduction and abduction of the joint (essentially the inward and outward angling and roll), offloading pressure from injured areas.
- Reduces the formation of edemas (your body’s inflammatory agents), thus reducing swelling.
- Stimulates the muscles so they can act as better supports for the joint.
- And it boosts circulation, speeding up recovery and helping tense muscles relax.
Not to mention, these braces feel pretty much like socks, so they’ll be easy to slip into any shoe and walk around in without restricting movement.
Do some strengthening exercises
The stronger your ankle is, the easier it will be for you to recover and the less likely you’ll be to re-injure it.
Some exercises to try include:
- Single leg stand. Stand on one foot for 20 seconds, then switch. Repeat 3-4 times. To make balancing easier, focus on a fixed spot like a chair or a door handle. To make it more challenging, close your eyes.
- Resisted plantar flexion. For this exercise, you should sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Attach a resistance band to a heavy piece of furniture or a pole and loop the other end around your foot. Point your toes as far toward you as you can, then release. Repeat the motion 20 times.
- Calf raises. Stand upright and lift your heels as high off the floor as you can. Repeat 15-20 times. If you feel comfortable doing so, try doing this exercise with your heels hanging off a ledge (this version of the exercise is also great for flat feet.)
See if you’re running too much
Have you drastically increased your running distance? Have you put enough rest days into your workout schedule? If you want to improve your running distance, always aim for gradual increases of around 10% per week. So, if you ran for 2 hours last week, you can add up to 12 minutes the following week. If you suddenly jumped from 2 hours to 3, your ankles, unprepared for that increase, are bound to start complaining.
Additionally, you should have a rest day every 3-5 training days. If you go too long without:
- You risk fatiguing the muscle, meaning it will be less effective in supporting the joint
- Any minor damage your ankle sustained will just stack up and get worse instead of healing.
Seek specialist advice
With any type of joint pain, it’s always best to get a professional diagnosis and advice. Your physiotherapist will be able to pinpoint the cause of your pain and recommend next steps like a tailored exercise plan and MRI scans.
To sum up
Considering what the ankles go through on a run, it’s not surprising that the joint is prone to pain and injury. But if you do have ankle pain when running, there are ways to fix it and minimise the risk of it happening again. Bracing, strengthening, working on your form, and getting sufficient rest are all good steps to take.
If you require assistance selecting the right product for your needs or wearing the brace, call us on 098015660 or contact us via live chat.
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