Your ankles are the great negotiator between the ground and the rest of your body: The more than two-dozen bones that comprise your ankle and foot, and the three joints of your ankle, play a constant sensing game to determine what type of terrain you’re navigating and how to best move across it. Your ankles absorb the pressure that occurs when your feet hit the ground with each step you take. They also stabilize your body weight, which is driving down simultaneously through your ankles’ narrow, right-angle structure.
You’re probably oblivious to the constant work your ankles do—unless, of course, you’re one of the 9 million Americans who sprain one each year. While the majority of ankle sprains occur when we’re young (between the ages of 15 and 24), they often don’t heal completely, leaving many of us with long-term mobility and stability issues. The good news? Your yoga practice is an excellent way to give your ankles the attention they deserve, helping to reverse past damage and keep you injury free for years to come. In the pages ahead, you’ll learn what you need to know about ankles in order to improve your balance and to strengthen and stabilize this joint.
Anatomy of the Ankle
It’s helpful to know the key bones and joints of the lower leg and foot to better understand how the ankle moves:
Bones you should know
Tibia (Shin Bone) The larger of the two bones that make up the lower leg
Fibula The thinner, smaller bone on the outside of the lower leg
Calcaneus The heel bone
Talus A wedge-shaped bone of the ankle joint that is located between the heel bone and the fibula and tibia; it forges a connection between the leg and the foot, aiding in ankle movements and helping maintain balance when weight is transferred from the ankle to the leg
Metatarsals A set of five long bones in the mid-foot that connect the ankle to the toe
Tarsals A set of seven hind- and mid-foot bones that exist to help bear weight; two of the most notable tarsals are the navicular and cuboid bones
Navicular A boat-shaped bone on the inner foot that creates the foot’s arch and assists with weight distribution
Cuboid A cube-shaped bone that connects and provides stability to the outer foot and ankle
Joints You Should Know
Talocrural The technical term for the ankle joint, which is the point where the tibia, fibula, and talus meet
Transverse tarsal joint Where the talus, calcaneus, navicular, and cuboid bones meet
Subtalar joint Where the talus and calcaneus meet
The ankle has six different movements available to it:
1. Dorsiflexion: the top of the foot moves toward the knee
2. Plantar flexion: the sole of the foot moves toward the calf
3. Eversion: the outside of the ankle moves toward your hip
4. Inversion: the inside of your ankle moves toward your groin
5. Abduction: a movement at the ankle causing the toes to move away from the body
6. Adduction: a movement at the ankle resulting in the toes moving in toward the midline
Fun fact: When you combine dorsiflexion, eversion, and abduction, your foot pronates; when you combine plantar flexion, inversion, and adduction, your foot supinates.
See also Poses for Your Ankles
Top Ankle Problems
The most common ankle injuries and issues include:
An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments outside the ankle, when the soft tissues are aggressively overstretched and the area swells up in a state of repair. Most sprains occur when the foot rolls inward (inversion). Depending on the severity of the sprain, it can take anywhere from weeks to months to heal. When an ankle is overworked too soon after a sprain, the tissues may not heal properly and can become permanently unstable and hypermobile—setting the stage for further vulnerability to injury.
See also 4 Poses to Fine-Tune Foot Stability + Prevent Injury
This is loss of ligament integrity, and it’s a common result of an ankle sprain. When ankle ligaments haven’t healed from a prior injury, they are no longer able to do the job of supporting the ankle joint. (One sign this may be the case is if you can hear your ankle “popping” or clicking.) Hyperlaxity can lead to both muscle weakness and hypertonicity (having too much muscle tone), which can lead to an increased risk of balance issues and injury.
Ankles can become stiff when their full range of motion is not utilized on a regular basis—whether as a result of an injury (like a sprain) or simply from not moving enough. (High heels are also notorious for causing ankle stiffness.) The truth is, if you sit all day—or if you mostly walk on flat surfaces rather than on uneven or inclined terrain—there’s a good chance your ankles don’t move through their full range of motion often enough, and they may be limited as a result.
Try the practice 4 Poses to Keep Your Ankles Healthy
About Our Pro
Writer Jill Miller is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and author of The Roll Model. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and the International Association of Yoga Therapists Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research, and she teaches at fitness and yoga conferences worldwide. Learn more at yogatuneup.com. Model Dayna Seraye is a yoga teacher and holistic-health coach in Boulder, Colorado.