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Ankles Aweigh!
Want a Lifetime of Mobility? Be Good to Your Ankles

The statistics are frightening. Each year in the United States, a third of all people over the age of 65 fall, and falls are the main cause of injury death for this age group. And when it comes to falling and the elderly, what doesn't kill you will not make you stronger. For many seniors, injuries incurred by falls are the beginning of the end - the end of an active, mobile life, the end of independence, the beginning of a slow and painful downward slide.

(Article continued below.)

While this pattern is all-too common, it's not an inevitable part of getting older. There are many reasons the elderly are prone to falls, from arthritis to poor eyesight. But one of the most common reasons for falls is poor balance. Balance relies a lot on ankle strength. The ankle joints and muscles around the ankles are easily weakened by disuse or years of misuse (poor posture and gait). But if you become aware of what your ankles are doing and spend just a little time on keeping them strong and healthy, you will greatly decrease your chances of suffering an injurious fall in old age.

First, observe your bare ankles in a mirror. Are they straight and solid, or do they bow inwards or outwards? How are they in relationship to your knees and hips? Are they aligned? When your ankles, knees and hips are out of alignment, it invites injury and increases your risk of getting osteoarthritis. If the alignment is poor, or if your ankles are bowing inwards or outwards, you may want to look into getting an orthotic support. Ankles that aren't straight and leg joints that are not aligned indicate that the muscles of your ankles are imbalanced - some are weaker than they should be.

Now that you've observed the way your ankles look, examine how they feel. Stand arm's length away from the wall; put your hands on the wall, leaning forward. Place one foot farther back than the other - how does your back heel feel as it lowers toward the floor? Do your heels reach the floor when you're in a low squat, or are they up in the air? Sit down in a chair and put a leg out straight. Flex your foot, and then point it several times - does your foot wobble at all or does it flex and point in a straight line? Does your ankle feel at all stiff? Do a few circles, moving only your ankle joint, both clockwise and counterclockwise. Can you do them smoothly, or are there are few areas where the mobility isn't quite as good? Are there any clicks or cracking noises? What about the other ankle - how do these exercises affect it? When a joint has problems moving fluidly, it can affect your stability and balance.

If your ankles aren't perfectly straight and mobile joints, don't worry. Nearly everyone has some sort of imperfections, including athletes and dancers. In fact, athletes and dancers often have heavily abused joints. If you have severe problems with your ankles - pain, or prior injuries that never healed properly - you must consult with a doctor. But if your ankles problems aren't serious- they're just not as strong as you'd like them to be, or you'd like to keep them healthy - a few simple exercises, done two or three times a week should do the trick. Some exercises you can do right at your desk; others at the end of a workout, or anytime you can go barefoot.

Next page >> Ankle Exercises and Stretches >> Page 1, 2

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