Expert tips on keeping ankles and wrists strong and sturdy
A while back, I stepped off a curb in New York City and twisted my ankle. I went through endless physical therapy—strange and silly exercises that helped a little, not a lot. A few months later, I was running through JFK and twisted my ankle again.
When I got off the plane in Barcelona, it was swollen like a grapefruit, or a softball, depending on how much you like sports metaphors, which I don’t. By the time I got to the lovely Hotel Arts, I was grounded. I elevated it and iced it, but I was unable to put any weight on my ankle at all. The hotel kindly called in its sports physiotherapist, who performed some manipulations, taped me up and left me still swollen, but feeling almost as good as new. He warned me to stay off my foot for 24 hours. But I was only in town for one day!
In the spirit of carpe diem, I took a walking tour around Barcelona to see my beloved Gaudi architecture. Needless to say, my ankle has never been the same since. Feeling a twinge lately got me thinking about ankles and wrists, those masterful feats of engineering that are delicate but do so much. Here is what I wish I’d known back then.
“Most people don’t realize that your wrists and ankles are very much like one another,” says Tyna Moore, ND, DC, owner and physician of Core Wellness Clinic in Portland, Oregon. “The muscles supporting the wrist start up near the elbows and the muscles supporting the ankle/foot start up near the knee. This means that ankle and wrist strength has everything to do with overall muscular strength of your arms and legs. Keeping your muscles strong, overall, is the ticket to stronger ankles and wrists.”
In order to do that, suggests Amy Buck, NPI CPS, STOTT Pilates and fitness instructor at COMO Shambhala Estate, “Simple squeezes of a small ball in the hand will help to strengthen the muscles of the wrists. The ankles benefit greatly from simple calf raises off a step to strengthen the small intrinsic muscles of the joint as well as build strength in the calves and the knees.”
Reasons for Inflammation
“The ankles, like the wrists, are a bag of intricate bones held together by a mesh work of ligaments,” says Moore. “Ligaments and tendons have a poor blood supply so they do not readily heal like muscle tissue. This can lead to long-term instability, pain, swelling and arthritis.”
There are several reasons why an ankle or wrist may become inflamed: an injury, like a twist or sprain; the onset of arthritis; chronic wear and tear from repetitive motion, i.e., typing on your laptop at an angle that overextends your joints and may lead to repetitive stress syndrome. When both ankles or both wrists hurt, says Moore, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
“Bilateral ankle and wrist inflammation is often a sign of something more systemic going on and it is important to have it evaluated,” she says. “Inflammation in the most distal joints of the fingers and toes is usually associated with osteoarthritis, while inflammation in the joints closest to the ankle or wrist joint is more often associated with inflammatory arthritis, especially when bilateral.”
Finding the root cause of the inflammation is the first step, says Moore. From there, she considers how dietary contributions and nutrient deficiencies affect inflammation. Magnesium, vitamin D, omega 3 fish oil deficiencies can contribute to degeneration of joints, while substances like curcumin and white willow bark can help with addressing inflammation and pain, according to Moore. Buck suggests eating ginger, turmeric and other anti-inflammatory healing foods to help boost the body’s resistance to inflammation.
Directly following an injury, Moore suggests avoiding ice and NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) “as these shut off the healing cascade. We need the inflammatory portion of the healing cascade to lay down normal and strong collagen over the next 300-plus days. Heating the area and keeping it moving are key (once fracture has been ruled out), as well as engaging in prescribed rehabilitative exercises around the two-week mark post-injury. Again, having strong leg musculature is key to strong ankles.”Next time, I’ll know better.
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