Wednesday, 2 January 2008

The Ankle


The major joint that can affect dancers of all disciplines. While I will cover sprains and strains later on in the glossary, I will make some pointers about the ankle.

Dancers need to exercise this important joint. This will strengthen the tendons and muscles around the ankle and reduce the possibility of inadvertent strain. Simple accidents can damage the ankle if you are a dancer. Some things to avoid: When stepping of Kerbs, pavements or sidewalks always be aware where your foot is. Kerbs are common causes of sprained ankles. Never go straight into dance until you have warmed up. Being cold will strain the muscles. Ask your teacher to work out exercises for strengthening ankles. If you are girl dancer, include never wearing high heels, as you can ‘come off’ these.

Proper stretching and warm-up exercises should be done before and after dance practice. It is essential that you warm up before competition and during the long periods between dancing which will help considerably to prevent ‘overuse’ injuries to the hips, knees and ankles. It is so apparent that injury happens when a dancer is waiting, waiting, waiting and then suddenly gets up to dance. You are cold. That is exactly when injury happens. A static stretch held for 10 seconds can help avoid overstretching injury.

Cool down, like another warm up is very important after class or competition in order to loosen these muscles and tendons. You may be too tight in these areas and will need to loosen them off, hence the ‘cool down’. Warm-up and cool-down exercises should take 5-10 minutes and should be done in a pattern of stretch/hold/relax. Do not snap, bounce or over pull these muscles when warming up. When your muscles, tendons, and joints, are properly warmed up, the strain on muscles, is then reduced. Knees should always be loose during warm-up.

Here are some basic exercises that are used on most Sports warm ups. I was a National Sports Coach in my own sports discipline for a number of years and I found these to be very useful.

In any case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Do regular exercises to stretch and strengthen your ankles.

Achilles tendon stretch:

Face a wall with your hands just touching the wall. Lean forward and support your body with your hands flat on the wall. Move one foot forward and one foot back a bit. Keep the heel of the back foot flat on the floor. Stretch forward until you feel the stretch in the back of the knee. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax the back of the rear knee and bend it toward the wall until you feel the stretch in the lower leg. That should feel stretched near the heel. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat five times when first starting and work that stretch up to 10 times as you become better.

Achilles tendon and ankle stretch:

Start in a kneeling position. Lift one knee so the toes are even with the knee of the other leg. Lift the heel of the bent leg until it is elevated about a half-inch. While you lower the heel, lean forward on your thigh. Hold 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat five to 10 times.

I like this one for dancers. When I was training as a dancer in my youth I used it many times and it is a lot of fun. It is now a standard excerice in most dance schools.

Knowing your ABC’s

Start by sitting on the floor (or sit in a hard chair). Take your shoes off. Moving only your ankle, draw the entire alphabet on the floor. This is only done one time.

Ankle bend:

Using the back of a chair for a support, place your feet shoulder-wide apart. Hold onto the back of the chair. Slowly bend and rotate your knees side ways and down until you are standing on the side of your ankle. Hold for 10 seconds. Slowly rotate your knees in the other direction, which should mean that you are now standing on the other side of your ankle. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

Ankle rotations:

Start by sitting on the floor (or sit in a hard chair). Remove your shoes. Moving only your ankle, draw circles. Repeat 10 to 20 times. This is also a great exercise to use when flying.

Ankle and calf stretch:

Sit back on a hard seat with your back against a wall or the back of a chair. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your heels are flat on the floor. Now lean forward keeping your back straight. To increase the stretch slightly-and only when you feel confident, push your knees down. Hold for a count of 40. Repeat this stretch five to 10 times.

Achilles tendon-Back of Ankle:

Start by kneeling down on the floor with your back straight. Move one foot forward and breathe in at the same time. Keep the foot flat with the bottom of the foot facing up. Lean forward and breathe out. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and then relax. You should feel the stretch in the top of the foot. Repeat these five times when first starting then 10 times as you improve.

Ankle Sprains:

Twisting or landing incorrectly from a jump onto an ankle can forcibly invert the joint and damage ligaments. This will cause a sprain. Immediate treatment using the RICE formula, (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) to reduce swelling is important to quick healing. Any such injury that does not show an improvement in three days should be checked by a podiatric specialist or your doctor.

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