Have you ever hurt your ankle? Perhaps you stepped off a curb wrong, rolling it so hard that you sprained it. Or maybe you got taken out at the ankles by an opponent in your football game, as a kid or as an adult, causing a serious injury to the ankle.
The vast majority of folks will have an ankle injury at some point in their life.
And there’s a crucial element of recovery from an ankle injury that almost everyone misses. And it negatively impacts parts of your body far away from your ankles.
When the ankle is injured, your lower leg, ankle, and foot have to re-learn how to organize and stabilize their movements. But the part you probably don’t know is this: An ankle injury sets off a cascade of weaknesses in the same-side hip and glute muscles.
And when you rehabilitate the ankle, but skip the hip, you’re setting yourself up for problems down the road.
The hip abductor muscles – like the gluteus medius – help control pelvic stability, as well as assist in controlling the internal and external rotation of the thigh. When one muscle goes weak, other muscles will have to compensate to pick up the slack.
And when the body needs pelvic stability, but isn’t getting enough of it from the hip abductors, it will recruit other muscles to do more stabilizing of the pelvis.
The adductors and hamstrings are two big muscle groups that are happy to pick up the slack.
But in doing so, they can begin to do more work than is normally expected of them. This can lead to “feeling it” only in the adductors or hamstrings when doing a lower body exercise. It can also cause them to have an extremely “tight” feeling, and seem as though they never get less tight and more mobile despite ample massage and stretching.
In addition, when pelvic stability changes because the hip abductors aren’t working as well as they should, gait patterning can change with it. This means that as the foot pushes off the ground and prepares for the swing phase of the gait, how the foot and ankle organizes itself, can become altered – which is one theory for why re-injuring a previously sprained ankle is such a common injury.
From an injury as “simple” as an ankle sprain, now you can see that there is a much more global effect happening as a result of what happened down in the ankle.
Your body doesn’t live in a vacuum. What happens in one part of your body impacts how other parts of your body function.
I’d like to give you two drills to start improving your pelvic stability and your hip abductor function.
1. Core Wall Ball Press
This drill is a simple, and effective, way to begin firing up the nervous system’s connection to your torso and hip muscles that stabilize the pelvis.
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. A folded up pillow works for this drill if a ball isn’t available. With hands in front of sternum, press your arms into the ball with firm pressure. Feel yourself lightly set your torso to resist any body movement as you press into the ball. Hold for 5 seconds, making sure you remember to breathe as you work, then relax. Repeat for 3-5 repetitions before switching to do the other side.
This is a great ‘movement break’ to take during your work day, or it can serve as a prep drill to be done at the beginning of a workout.
2. The Kneeling Side Plank Clam
This drill will help connect pelvic stability through your torso to the external rotation brought on by opening the knees away from each other.
Keep the hips stacked one over the other. If you had laser beams shooting out of your iliac crests – the pointy-feeling bone on the front of your hips – the lasers would shoot forward running parallel to the floor. (It’s most common for folks to turn their hips slightly towards the sky instead of stacking them to face forward, which can bring the low back muscles into the exercise, which we do not want here.)
Open the top knee up as high as you can, and aim to feel the sides of the hips and glutes flexing as you hold.
Once in the side plank, you want to be able to draw a straight line from shoulders, through hips, down to knees. If the hips aren’t extended enough (pushed forward), they will be behind that imaginary line you drew from shoulders to knees. Hold for time, starting with 10 seconds if you’re new to exercise, and working up to 45 seconds if you’re more experienced.