Building support for an injury-prone joint
We need our ankles to keep us on our feet, but injuries to this joint sideline even the most active Albertans.
Jun. 6, 2017
By Caitlin Crawshaw (originally appeared in Apple Magazine – Summer 2017)
Illustrated by Steven Twigg
“Ankles are vulnerable to injury,” says Michael Asmussen, a University of Calgary postgraduate fellow and Alberta Innovates researcher. Like any joint, ankles can be damaged by trauma—such as a bad fall that fractures bones or tears ligaments. The joint itself also plays a role, he says: “Weak supporting structures—such as the ligaments and muscles around the joint—can also increase the risk of injury.”
Asmussen is studying how the muscles that cross the ankle work to stabilize the joint and prevent it from buckling under high forces. Working with UCalgary orthotics researcher Benno Nigg, PhD, he’s studying computer models and people to measure muscle activity under different conditions. His research uses some high-tech tools, including high-speed motion-capture technology.
“Right now, there’s not too much known about exactly how the muscles that cross the ankle joint contribute to its stability,” Asmussen says. “A better understanding will help us know how to effectively strengthen these muscles to prevent ankle injuries, especially in people who’ve had previous injury.”
Tips for avoiding ankle injury
Wear appropriate footwear: Wear shoes designed for a specific activity, such as running shoes for running or court shoes for basketball.
Build muscle: Protect your ankles by strengthening their supporting muscles. You can do this with weight training or by slowly building endurance in your chosen activity. For instance, a runner can build strength by slowly increasing distance, allowing enough time for muscle to develop.
Stop when you’re tired: Injuries happen more often when we’re physically or mentally fatigued. Listen to your body and stop when you’re starting to feel tired—before you hit a wall.
Pay attention to your form: Landing awkwardly after a jump or during a run can make your ankle more prone to injury. Be mindful of how you move your body.