Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Weak Ankles

If you have a tendency to twist your ankles while hiking or running, you may be prone to sprained ankles. This is an extremely common affliction, and ruins outdoor adventures and athletic endeavors on a regular basis. Are high-topped hiking boots, tape, or ankle braces the only solutions?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any great exercises to strengthen an ankle joint, because the structural integrity of the joint is provided by ligaments, which cannot be strengthened or tightened by exercise. If your ankle tends to twist and “sprain,” which is stretching and/or tearing of the ligaments, then you need to keep it in a stable situation. For climbing and hiking, this is best accomplished with high-topped shoes or boots. They don’t necessarily need to be heavy and clunky – they just need to provide enough support so that your ankle can not be easily twisted (or bent) in or out. Thin-fabric high-topped sneakers won’t give you much support, but some of the intermediate weight hiking shoes are excellent. Be certain that the base of the shoe is wide enough to provide good lateral stability, and that the shoes have a decent arch. Wrapping (e.g., with an elastic bandage wrap) or taping your ankles, as do athletes prior to competition, also provides support, but this requires expertise and an extra effort. There are lightweight cushioned splints that can be worn over your foot and ankle while inside a low-topped shoe, but they are not very comfortable when worn over a great distance.

How else do you protect your ankles? Be careful on rocky, steep, and/or slippery terrain. Use adjuncts, such as hiking poles, to prevent falls. When you are tired and more prone to be weak, achieve a rest period. Train for the environment and anticipated level of exertion.

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photo courtesy of Hiking in Colorado
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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.