Ankle mobility and strength can have a big impact on our fall risks as we age. There are several factors that can lead to increased risk of falls as we age and two of these factors are ankle strength, and range of motion (ROM)1,2.
Ankle dorsiflexion ROM (lifting your foot/toes up) is a strong predictor in dynamic balance (balance while you are moving) while plantar flexor strength (pushing your foot down like pressing on the gas pedal) is a strong predictor in static (stationary) balance2. So with the increased risk of decreased strength and ROM in our ankles due to aging we need to look for ways to slow these changes down or to stop them if possible1,2.
Evidence suggests that foot and ankle exercises can help to reduce the risk of falls3. There are several options available to us to improve both ankle ROM and strength3. What I have found to be an effective way to improve both dorsiflexion ROM and plantar flexion strength, is to perform a heel raise on the bottom stair while holding onto the railing for support/balance to make it safe. As you do this exercise, work on lowering yourself smoothly and slowly for a count of six seconds and try to get up to ten repetitions, performing this daily for 2 sets, if possible.
For a more comprehensive balance or fall risk assessment please contact your PCP and ask about a referral to physical therapy. If you have questions or concerns, contact the Rehabilitation Department at Windom Area Health at 507-831-0634.
By Ike Pohlman, DPT
Bok, S. K., Lee, T. H., & Lee, S. S. (2013). The effects of changes of ankle strength and range of motion according to aging on balance. Annals of rehabilitation medicine, 37(1), 10–16. https://doi.org/10.5535/arm.2013.37.1.10
Hernández-Guillén D, Tolsada-Velasco C, Roig-Casasús S, Costa-Moreno E, Borja-de-Fuentes I, Blasco J-M (2021) Association ankle function and balance in community-dwelling older adults. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0247885. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247885
Schwenk M, Jordan ED, Honarvararaghi B, Mohler J, Armstrong DG, Najafi B. Effectiveness of foot and ankle exercise programs on reducing the risk of falling in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2013 Nov-Dec;103(6):534-47. doi: 10.7547/1030534. PMID: 24297989.