Staying Grounded: How to Keep Your Feet & Ankles Healthy and Reduce Risk of Injuries

Do you have happy feet and ankles?  Yes, it may be an odd question and hard to define just what happy feet and ankles are.  For the purposes of this blog, happy feet do not refer to the animated movie or how you feel after getting a pedicure.  People that are unhappy with their feet and ankles are easy to pick out in a crowd.  They can’t stand very long, have possible issues walking or running, are prone to injuries, and may have swelling or inflammation regularly. 

Foot and ankle problems are not race, gender, sexual preference, age, or religious affiliation biased.  Many problems with your feet and ankles could be alleviated, or at least made less severe, by treating the muscles around your ankle joints a lot better.  Your knees could thank you also for being nicer to your feet and ankles.  Even your hips and low back benefit from heathy feet and ankles. 

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

April is National Foot Health Awareness Month by the American Podiatric Medical Association.  Most people take the health of their feet and ankles for granted, or that pain will stay with them forever.  This blog is to educate you to change your thinking on both.  Your feet and ankles are the foundation of balance and stability for the body when standing.  The major muscles around the ankle joint are the soleus and gastrocnemius, which compose the calf, and the anterior and posterior tibialis, which are on the shin.  The calf muscle points the toes down and the shin muscles point the toes up.  It’s vital to keep them in balance to avoid injuries and dysfunction all the way up to your lower back.

Typically, most people have overly tight calf muscles and overly weak shin muscles.  The calf muscles are one of the easiest muscles to stretch on the body.  The first stretch is very simple:  stand in a staggered stance with your feet facing forward, the back heel on the ground, front leg slightly flexed, back leg straight, and lean forward slightly.  Do not bounce, ease into the stretch and hold for 20 seconds then switch feet.  The second stretch is to put your heel on the ground in front of wall and point your toe up high as you can, like your foot is on the gas pedal.  Lean forward into the stretch keeping your toes pointed up, do not bounce, and keep the leg straight.  Hold each foot for around 20 seconds.

Calf stretch with toe up
Staggered stance calf stretch

Strengthening the shin muscles is also simple and can be integrated into your normal lifting program or done at home for overall health.  Walk like you have swim fins on, exaggerating your toes pointing up with each step as your heel strikes the ground.  Walk 30 total steps for 1-2 sets.  Another simple, not always easy, exercise to do is practice standing on one foot for 15-20 seconds.  If your balance is bad, stand close to a wall or stable object you can hold if you lose your balance.  Balance is a function of proprioception, how your body reacts to various stimuli in space.  It is a use it or lose it skill and can be regained through consistent practice. 

Keeping proper length-tension relationships with the muscles around your ankles can go a long way towards preventing Achilles’ tendon injuries, ACL injuries, low back pain, and shin splints.  While this list is not inclusive of all feet and ankle injuries, nor is it a fail proof method to avoiding all feet and ankle injuries, keeping the mobility, flexibility, and strength of this important joint is crucial for Activities of Daily Living (ADL).  If you’re a runner or weekend sports warrior, healthy feet and ankles are mandatory for providing the enjoyment you get from participating in such activities. 

Strengthening the anterior tibialis

For people with structural issues in their feet and ankles, please see a medical specialist who can help with your specific problems.  Wearing proper footwear for your activities that is in good condition is also important for avoiding injuries.  Ladies, high heels look great, but they are not your friend for keeping the ankles happy.  Also, performing squats elevating your heels also increases your chances for injuries by shortening your calf muscles and restricting range of motion.  Do NOT believe magazines and websites that tell you this position is great for your glutes.

To help you with ankle joint health, I have written an online course just for you called Overcoming Chronic Pain Through Stretching & Strengthening.  It provides pictures and videos for stretches and exercises that can help everything I mentioned in this blog.  I also guarantee or your money back after completing the course, if you do not see the results you desire.  Trust me, this can be life changing now and for years to come.  Check it out and also my website for more details and how to sign up today!

Moderation Examples, Not Extreme Behavior to Achieve Your Resolutions

Extreme right wing, extreme left wing.  Extreme heat, extreme cold.  Obesity, anorexia.  Overuse injuries, injuries from underutilization.

When it comes to new health and fitness goals, extremes are way to common for January resolutions.  Waking up at 5:00AM to run 3 miles when you never wakeup before 6:00AM and haven’t run since PE in high school.  Drop 40 pounds on a liquid diet in 15 days, and you barely drink 3 glasses of water per day.  What are the odds of success in these situations?  Not much.

Photo by Charlotte May on Pexels.com

As a fitness industry expert, I have personally gone through different extremes with my body.  None of these extremes have ever lasted long for many reasons.  The body and mind cannot deal with depravation and over training for long periods of time without injuries.  What has lasted is a moderation of healthy lifestyle habits and activities that I enjoy.  The lessons learned from training for a bodybuilding contest and elite level obstacle course races, helps me maintain a fitness level that works for my personality and body type.

  • “I need someone to be super strict with me or I’ll never lose weight.”
  • “I have to workout for two hours every day.”
  • “I’m cutting all carbs from my diet and eating only meat.”

Do any of these statements make you nod your head in agreement?  If so, has that thought process worked for you beyond the length of a program/diet/contest?  If the answer to the first question is yes, the answer to the second is no.  You have reverted back to your previous self and feel like a failure for doing so.  This cyclic behavior is self-destructive and why your resolutions never work every year.

Regardless if you started and stopped already, or haven’t started yet, try a new moderate approach to changing your lifestyle.

  • No alcohol Sunday-Thursday
  • Replace soft drinks with flavored mineral water
  • Join a group to try new physical activities like hiking or cycling

In an article on NPR about a Swedish study on factors that help keep resolutions, ones that are for pleasurable activities instead of depriving are more successful.  Moderation in your lifestyle can lead to better choices overall.  Look at choices about exercise and food changes with an “if I do x, then I adjust y”.  For example, you’re going to dinner with friends on Thursday night.  Adjust your breakfast and lunch choices to allow for anything you want at dinner.  You fully enjoy the outing without guilt and still on track for your goals. 

NPC Physique competition 2014

Life is meant to be lived, not constantly have the fun taken away.  For 6 years I have maintained body fat percentage around 10% or less.  I don’t skip meals, turn down alcohol, or workout excessively.  The hard work was done during the bodybuilding contest prep.  Since then, I learned that is not the lifestyle for me.  Overall, I don’t drink sodas, keep alcohol to the weekends, and don’t buy sugary foods at the grocery store.  Total calories I eat are more than most people daily, the food is just not processed and full of fat. 

2021 doesn’t feel much different so far than 2020.  What you can take into the new year is a more focused view on your health and fitness to strengthen your immunity and reduce risk factors for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.  In turn, you will be happier and have more self-confidence to take on the challenges 2021 will bring you.

For help with your goals, feel free to email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com.  Join the Athlete in the Game of Life Team on my website and receive a free copy of my book!