Like a chain, the body is only as strong as its weakest link.
For many physically active people, that weak link is the ankle. About 8 million people sprain an ankle each year, and a hefty portion of those—more than 30 percent—will suffer a resprain.
Improving the health of ankles can be boiled down to a single word—balance. Jay Hertel (Educ ’94), an associate professor of kinesiology at UVA, joined other researchers to study the value of balance training, where participants stand on one leg, try not to wobble and hold the pose for a full minute.
In one study, 31 adults with chronic ankle sprains tried four weeks of the training; they experienced dramatic improvement in balance, and their ankles felt stronger.
The research points to the importance of neuroreceptors carrying signals from the ankle’s ligaments to the brain. When you damage the ligament, Hertel says, “you damage the neuroreceptors as well. Your brain no longer receives reliable signals.”
Hertel has simple tips to improve balance. Begin by standing on one leg for a minute with little wobbling. Add to the degree of difficulty by crossing your arms over your chest, closing your eyes or even hopping. Then attempt all of these standing on a pillow so you’re on an unstable surface.