People get sprained ankles and other ankle injuries often. And once you have a sprained ankle or other ankle injury, chances are that you'll injure it again and again. In fact, some researchers suggest that the recurrence rate for ankle injuries can be from 30% - 80%.
Back in the 1960's, a doctor noticed that people who suffered an ankle injury, had really bad balance on that leg -- even after the ankle didn't hurt any more. He didn't know why that was, but here's a pretty big part of the answer: Proprioception. Proprioception is your sense of your body's position in space. During aikido training, we improve our proprioception a lot. But our proprioception can get messed up through even minor injuries.
When you have an ankle injury, you suffer ligament injury and damage the neural receptors in the ligaments. These neural receptors communicate with your brain and tell it how your ankle and foot are positioned relative to the ground. When the neural receptors are injured, your brain doesn't understand what's going on with your foot and ankle and you can easily re-injure your ankle.
In other words, ankle injuries hurt your proprioception. You become less stable and are more likely to step wrong or fall and re-injure yourself.
Some people's neural receptors heal quickly, but often the receptors don't heal quickly. And repeated injuries follow.
A big part of regaining your proprioception and healing the neural receptors is to do balance exercises. Here are some really easy balance exercises (don't do these until your ankle can comfortably bear your weight):
- All you need is some space, a table or wall nearby to steady yourself if needed, and, maybe, a pillow.
- Try to stand with solid balance on one leg for a minute. Once you can do that, cross your arms over your chest. When you're good at that, close your eyes.
- When those exercises are not a particular challenge, hop on one leg. Not a challenge? Close your eyes.
- You can make balancing more difficult by standing on a pillow.
- Here's a truly great exercise: Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. Close your eyes if that's too easy. If that's too easy, do some one legged knee bends while brushing your teeth.
These super simple exercises will really, really help your balance, your ankle and your proprioception.
When you really want to work on your balance and proprioception, come to the dojo and practice aikido and kettlebells!
Here's the link to the article in the NY Times that I based this post on.