Dr. Rachael Bailey, Medical Writer and Head of Research, shows a series of exercises that can help reduce ankle pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, also introducing the scientific foundations that make them so effective.
We discuss in this interview:
- How RA can affect the ankle joint
- Specific exercises for muscles in the foot and ankle
- Other benefits of these exercises (stress reduction, improved balance)
- The targeted muscles
- Advice for a correct implementation
Hello, it’s Rachel Bailey here, researcher for Rheumatoid Solutions. If you’ve got pain in the ankles, then we’ve got some solutions for you today that are based on scientific research. And these solutions can help to reduce inflammation and pain in the ankles for rheumatoid arthritis. And remember, this isn’t medical advice, so make sure to consult with your doctor before making any changes to your exercise, diet, drugs and supplements.
So let’s get into it. Now, if you or someone that you know has got rheumatoid arthritis, then you probably know how it can affect different joints throughout the body and this can include the ankles. So let’s firstly have a quick look at how this can happen. Rheumatoid arthritis can damage the cartilage in the ankle joint, and the cartilage acts like a cushion in between the bones. So when this gets eroded away, the bones can start to rub against each other, and this can leave us with serious discomfort. So what kinds of discomfort are we talking about? Well, you might experience pain, swelling, stiffness, and even decreased flexibility, and imagine not being able to move your ankle joint quite as freely as you used to. But that’s not all. Rheumatoid arthritis patients can also have reduced strength in their ankles, and this can make it harder to do daily things like walking or even standing for long periods of time. However, there is some good news. And the good news is that exercise can actually help to address this muscle weakness. So by doing specific exercises that target the muscles in the foot and ankle and we can actually improve strength and flexibility and help to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
So exercise can be a great tool in managing ankle pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis by doing specific exercises, we can strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve mobility and flexibility through the joint. And helping to improve our balance and stability and also to reduce our overall stress levels, which can have a massive impact on rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. So if you’re looking to target the muscles around your ankle joint to help to manage rheumatoid arthritis pain, there’s a few key muscles that you’ll want to focus on and these include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. In this diagram here, these are the muscles in the calf and they play an important role in supporting the ankle joint directly. So strengthening these muscles can help to provide support for the ankle and to reduce pain. As well as this, there’s the tibialis anterior muscle. So this is located at the front of the shin here, over here. And this helps too, when we move and pull our foot upwards, so it helps with that direct movement. And so strengthening this muscle can help to improve mobility, flexibility and also to reduce stiffness in the ankle joint. Then finally the peroneal muscles. So these are located along the outside of the lower leg and they help specifically to stabilize and balance the ankle joint. So strengthening these muscles can help to reduce the risk of falls and to improve the overall function of the ankle.
Now, we’ll get into the more interesting part of the talk, which is looking at what specific exercises we can use to target these muscles and help to relieve pain in our ankles. So before I start, if you’re listening to this, then you might want to check out the YouTube video that accompanies this podcast. And as I’ll put the diagrams showing each of these exercises and how to perform them correctly. But I will describe them in basic terms as we go along just in case you are listening to the audio version of the podcast. So if you look into specifically target these muscles around the ankle joints, it’s important to start with stretching exercises as these help to warm up the muscles and prepare them for more intense activity. So stretching the calf muscles is a great place to start because these are the muscles that play a key role in supporting the ankle joint. A simple calf stretch can be performed using wool for stability. And we just move one foot in front of the other and push the back heel down towards the ground and while keeping the back leg straight. And you should feel a nice stretch in and feeling through that back calf. This stretch can be held for around 15 to 30 seconds and then it can be repeated several times on each leg.
Now, calf raises are a great way of targeting the muscles around the ankle joints and those supportive calf muscles. These are specifically very good for the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that we mentioned earlier. Calf raises can be performed in different ways, all depending on your preference and your current strength levels and mobility. So you can perform them either with a straight or a bent leg and you can use, again, a wall for stability or perhaps the back of a chair. And a calf raise basically involves standing on the balls of your feet and lifting your heels as high as you can. And so, as I said before, either with straight or bent legs. Now an exercise called the ankle alphabet is a great way of targeting the tibialis anterior muscle, which is the muscle located towards the front of the shin that I showed you in the diagram earlier on. It’s a very simple exercise that you can do in a comfy chair, sit down and flex one leg out in front of you, and by moving your ankle around and you chase the letters of the alphabet using your foot. Obviously, this can depend on how much mobility you actually have in the ankle. This may be something that you need to progress towards over time.
So another couple of great exercises for targeting that tibialis anterior muscle at the front of the calves are recessed ankle dorsiflexion and toe raises. Don’t worry too much about the long and complicated names. The exercises themselves are very simple to do. So to do an ankle dorsiflexion and grab yourself a comfortable mat and sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. You can use a resistance band and wrap it around one of your extended legs and point your toes forwards and then slowly pull them back towards your shins as far as you can. So using the resistance of the band and hold in this position for a few seconds and then release. You can then repeat this 10 to 15 times, have a rest and then repeat for another couple of sets of 10 to 15, and you should feel this nice stretch in the calf area. And then toe raises and simply you can use a wall for support here as before. Stand with your feet, shoulder width apart and flat on the ground, and then slowly rise up onto your toes, lifting your heels up off of the ground and hold in this position for a few seconds, and slowly lower your heels back to the ground. And again, you can repeat these for 10 to 15 reps, have a rest, and then repeat the whole set 2 to 3 times. This is something that you can start with a few reps and a few sets and then build up and increase over time.
Then finally, aversion exercises can be very beneficial for targeting the perennial muscles. So at the lower part of the leg surrounding the ankle joint, and these can either be done while you are sitting on the floor on a comfy mat or in a chair. And you can use a resistance band which you loop around the balls of your feet and hold on to the other end of the band and then turn the foot outwards away from the midline of the body and then back in. So turn the foot outwards and hold this for about six seconds and then relax and repeat this and somewhere between 8 and 10 times. All of these exercises that we’ve mentioned within the podcast can be performed using just your body weight, or you can even add a small weight such as a dumbbell, to increase the intensity of the exercises.
If you have a lot of ankle pain due to rheumatoid arthritis, you might want to start with low-intensity exercises. So things such as walking and swimming to build up strength and to improve circulation through the body. Resistance bands can also be very helpful if you have a lot of ankle pain and just make sure to start with a lighter band and then gradually increase the resistance as you increase strength and mobility in your ankle. And don’t forget to stretch your calf muscles before performing any exercises, since this can help to reduce pain and inflammation. Always listen to your body, so take it slowly and gradually increase your exercise intensity as you progress.
I just want to highlight what I think are the key takeaway points from what we’ve discussed in this podcast. So firstly, to reduce arthritic ankle pain, it’s really important to target the muscles that support the ankle joint and to use specific strengthening exercises. So you can incorporate muscle-strengthening exercises such as toe raises, ankle dorsiflexion, and aversion exercises into your routine. And this will help to improve strength and reduce pain. So before starting any new exercise program, it’s really important to consult with your doctor first to ensure that it’s safe for you. Equally as important is to listen to your own body and to take regular breaks if needed, to avoid pushing through any pain or discomfort as this can make your symptoms worse. And remember, with the right exercises and mindset, you can manage your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and improve your ankle function. So stay motivated, stay positive, and keep moving forwards.
And finally, thank you so much for tuning in to today’s episode on managing rheumatoid pain in the ankle joint. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Rheumatoid Solutions YouTube channel for more great Content. And if you’re not a member already, be sure to join our community at www.RheumatoidSolutions.com. So thanks again for listening and I’ll catch you on the next episode. Thank you. Bye.