Back to Boof – Dodgy Ankles
by Sal Montgomery
Loaded boats, soggy shoes and sketchy portages. It’s no surprise that our ankles sometimes give out on us. Not ideal if you’re halfway down that pretty remote river and still have scouts or portages coming up. Suddenly you don’t feel quite as badass and you’ve become very reliant on your paddling buddies…
Brits on tour
Ankle sprains can sometimes identify similar to that of a British paddler abroad- hot, uncomfortable and red in appearance. Whilst a bad sprain is better represented by the Brit that’s taking their mind off the sunburn by visiting the local discoteca- a bit wobbly and struggling to walk.
If you notice that your ankle shares some of these characteristics then you’ve likely stretched your ligaments beyond their limits, causing fibres to tear and become inflamed.
Ligaments connect bone to bone (tendons connect muscle to bone). The inside of our ankle has the lovely thick ‘Deltoid Ligament’, that doesn’t allow much movement but is super stable. On the outside, we’ve got 3 smaller ligaments which connect the bones of our foot to the shin bones. These structures let us have lots of movement but are more vulnerable to being damaged.
Why are we more likely to re-injure our ankles?
Unfortunately for our wobbly ankles, ligaments don’t receive a lot of blood flow which means that they’re pretty slow healers. And us kayakers aren’t good at sitting down. So we’ll keep doing things that interfere with the healing process and end up with a never quite fully fixed ankle.
We also like to be doing fun, exciting stuff in the outdoors. So as soon as we can, we’ll be back in our boats, on our bikes or generally messing around in the outdoors! The rivers are up and that painful ankle is a thing of the past. Until we’re in that remote canyon and it’s goes again of course…
There’s probably been times that you’ve started to go over on your ankle but it’s automatically righted itself- this was thanks to the some tiny sensors called Proprioceptors kicking in to action!
These little fellas are busily relaying information about joint position, as well pressure and stretching forces, to our brains. Our brains then use this information to make necessary changes to our position. When we get an injury however, our Proprioceptors stop doing their job quite so well. By the time the brain gets the message it’s probably too late and the damage has already been done.
All is not lost though, we can train these little minions and get them working at lightening speed again!
A few ideas to get your thinking
No need for fancy equipment…
The Stork Balance
Essentially standing on one leg! Easy peasy- stand on the leg you want to work on and concentrate on keeping well-balanced. As the small structures around your ankle engage and adapt, you’ll probably feel lots of little twitching sensations- this is the minions working!
Hold it for 30-60 seconds. Then try adding in these progressions-
- Eyes closed
- On a pillow or folded towel
- Throwing and catching a ball
Single Leg Squats
Raise one leg off the floor and lower in to a shallow squat position, whilst keeping the supporting knee centred over the ball of your foot. As it starts to get easier, progress to deeper squats.
Keeping your trunk straight, bend at the pelvis and lean forwards to pick shoe off the floor (or any other bit of kit you’ve got lying around!). Slowly extend your upper body back up to upright, before repeating to return the object back to the floor.
This can be as simple as hopping forwards in a straight line. Or if you want to spice things up, try setting up a circuit incorporating hopping in different directions, including backwards, figure of 8s, in and out of hoops and along agility ladders. If you don’t have these, good old chalk on the pavement works just as well!
Static: Stand with one foot in front of the other, with your toes touching the heel of the front foot. Hold for 30 seconds.
Walking: Set two markers and slowly walk between them (forwards and backwards) as if your on a tight rope. Yours toes of the back foot should be just touching the heel of the front foot.
Wobble, Balance or Rocker boards
If you’re fortunate enough to have that buddy that likes to buy trending equipment, then check their garage for things like wobble boards or cushions. These bits of kit are great for working on balance and stability. They’re often pulled out at house parties, but not a great idea after a few beers!
A few take homes
As well as proprioception training, there’s a few other things we can do to reduce our risk of ankle injuries-
- Always warm up…
- Pushing through fatigue will often result in injury. The marathon runner is more at risk of a soft tissue injury in the last few miles…
- General conditioning and stretching helps prep your body for the demands you place on it whilst out doing the stuff you love…
- Think about what terrains you’ll likely be taking on when choosing your next pair of river shoes…
Don’t let an ankle sprain keep you off the water!
Part-time Physiotherapist, full-time kayak bum. When not in a remote, sketchy canyon in Asia or dropping off a big waterfall in Chile, Sal can be found at her home in the UK probably running silly distances, swimming in extremely cold seas, or editing the ridiculous amount of GoPro footage from her last expedition.
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