Want to Improve Your Balance? Start with Strengthening Your Ankles
Do you sometimes feel unsteady on your feet? Would you say your balance isn’t as good as it used to be? Have you thought that weak ankles could be contributing to your balance difficulties?
The answer is yes, and I’ll explain why. I will also share two exercises you can do at home to strengthen your ankles and improve your balance.
There are many reasons why we struggle with our balance as we get older. These can include:
- Vertigo (which can be caused by inner ear issues),
- Medications (many have side effects that can influence your balance),
- Neurological conditions (including Parkinson’s and MS), and
- Foot pain or problems (including nerve damage from diabetes).
Regardless of the reason you are having trouble with your balance (and you may not find one reason), strengthening your ankles will almost certainly help improve your situation.
Quick note: If you are worried about your balance, it might help to see your doctor and discuss the issue with him/her.
Why Are Ankles So Integral to Good Balance?
When we need to control our balance and stay steady, our ankles are the first part of our body to help us do so. The ankle muscles fire up as our first balance response.
So, when we stand upright and are just swaying slowly through a small range of motion, our ankles are maintaining our balance.
Because the amount of force that these muscles can generate is small, the ankles can only maintain our balance for a while. However, we need that initial response at the ankle for maintaining our balance in many everyday situations.
With more substantial balance challenges, we need to bring in other postural control strategies (I will discuss these in another article!).
For an effective ankle strategy, we need adequate strength and stability in the ankle joint. Performing targeted ankle strength exercises will build this stability and ensure our ankles can successfully work to help us maintain our balance.
Once you start doing these, you will be surprised at how difficult they are – “I did not know that my ankles were so important,” is one comment I hear a lot.
These exercises will also help you with walking well and confidently taking the stairs.
Exercise #1: Heel Raise
One great exercise you can do to strengthen your ankles is the Heel Raise exercise.
The video below demonstrates and talks you through the Heel Raise. You don’t need any equipment or special clothing to do this exercise. You should stand facing something you can hold onto (I am using the back of a chair; you can also use a kitchen worktop or table).
When you do the Heel Raise, think about:
- Standing up tall (imagine there is a string pulling you up through the top of your head);
- Keeping your bottom tucked in;
- Starting gently and building up gradually.
Keep your weight over the big toe and second toe and aim to move straight up and down. The most common mistake people make is to roll their ankles out. If you do this, you won’t get the full benefit and are more likely to injure yourself.
Variations on this exercise:
- You can vary the speed at which you go up and down.
- The less you hold on, the more of a balance challenge this exercise provides.
- Doing this on one leg is very advanced. But there’s an in-between exercise which works well if you want to push yourself a bit harder: Push up on two feet, then lift one foot off the floor and come down on one foot only. Alternate legs and go back to two legs when it gets too hard!
Exercise #2: Standing on One Leg
When you stand on one leg (or attempt to do so!), you are using all the small, stabilising muscles around your ankle to keep you steady.
So, this is a fantastic exercise to strengthen your ankles. It’s also fun and simple.
Follow along with this short video, to learn how to perform a great one-leg stand for balance. (Stand next to a chair or other support for this exercise.)
When you are standing on one leg for balance, think about:
- Standing up tall.
- Keeping your body in alignment when you transfer your weight onto one leg (Don’t let your hips or upper body shift sideways.);
- Your foot should remain firmly planted on the floor.
If you want to add challenge to your one-leg stands, or learn about other positions you can try, please refer to this article.
I hope that these two exercises will help you toward building stronger ankles for better balance.
If you want more exercises to improve your balance, take a look at our free, four-week Balance Boost video series. These online videos are short, clear, and easy to follow. They will help you to feel steadier on your feet and more confident.
What’s the state of your balance? Do you have weak ankles? Where do you notice this and how does it affect your life? Please join the conversation below!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.