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8 Facts About the Ankle

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The humble ankle has had a remarkable history as an object of fetishization: Think Victorian sexual repression and high heels. Of course, its significance is also practical. Without ankles, there would be no sports or dance. Not only would nobody be able to score a touchdown, we wouldn't even be able to walk. Here are eight things you may not have known about this basic but crucial joint:

1. THE ANKLE IS COMPOSED OF JUST THREE MAIN BONES.

The true ankle joint is composed of three bones: the tibia, or the inside part of the ankle; the fibula, the outside part of the ankle, and the talus, underneath. These allow the flexion and extension of the foot, letting you make the up and down motions that you require to walk. Below the ankle joint is actually a second joint called the subtalar joint, which allows side-to-side motion of the foot. Altogether, the human foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

2. THE ANKLE JOINT IS NOTORIOUSLY WOBBLY.

Despite how often humans are on their feet, the ankle joint is small and unstable in the best of times because of its precarious anatomical structure. Most people will experience a tweaked, twisted or sprained ankle at least once in their lives.

3. ANKLE SPRAINS ARE THE MOST COMMON INJURY IN AMERICA.

When you couple the weak ankle joint with the vigorous activity it’s required to perform, it’s no surprise that ankle sprains account for nearly 2 million injuries every year, or 20 percent of all sports injuries in the United States.

4. NOT ALL OF THESE SPRAINS ARE SPORTS-RELATED.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported an estimated 125,355 high heel-related injuries in U.S. Emergency Departments between 2002 and 2012. In 2011 alone, there were a reported 19,000 injuries from high heels. The injury rate was greatest for women in their 20s. Another survey from the College of Podiatry found that most women reported foot pain after one hour and six minutes of wearing high heels, and 20 percent of participants said that they felt pain after just 10 minutes of wear.

5. NEVER JUST "WALK OFF" AN ANKLE SPRAIN.

You can actually do significant damage if you’re walking on an untreated ankle sprain, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Treatments may range from rest, ice, and ibuprofen to casts, braces, and even surgery. Always seek a doctor’s care if you think you’ve sprained an ankle.

6. THE ANKLE WAS TOO EROTIC FOR PUBLIC VIEWING IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND.

A woman lifting her skirt to show her ankle was considered provocative in Victorian England. This is ironic, given that the Victorians were at the same time producers of copious pornography.

7. "PRETTIEST ANKLE" CONTESTS WERE POPULAR THROUGH THE 1930s.

While the Victorian era repressed women’s displays of their bodies, the 1930s were all about exposing the ankles. In fact, according to Mashable, in the UK “pretty ankle” competitions were popular events until about World War II.

8. YOU MIGHT WANT TO RETHINK AN ANKLE TATTOO.

Because the foot and ankle generally don’t have much fat or flesh, getting a tattoo on this skinny extremity can be extremely painful. Because of how much use your foot and ankle get, they also can take twice as much time to heal as other locations—but it could give you a leg up in an ankle competition.

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People Listen (and Remember) Better With Their Right Ears, Study Finds
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If you’re having trouble hearing in a noisy situation, you might want to turn your head. New research finds that people of all ages depend more on their right ear than their left, and remember information better if it comes through their right ear. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans on December 6.

Kids’ ears work differently than adults' do. Previous studies have found that children's auditory systems can’t separate and process information coming through both of their ears at the same time, and rely more on the auditory pathway coming from the right. This reliance on the right ear tends to decrease when kids reach their teens, but the findings suggest that in certain situations, right-ear dominance persists long into adulthood.

To study how we process information through both our ears, Auburn University audiologists brought 41 adult subjects (between the ages of 19 and 28) into the lab to complete dichotic listening tests, which involve listening to different auditory inputs in each ear. They were either supposed to pay attention only to the words, sentences, or numbers they heard in one ear while ignoring the other, or they were asked to repeat all the words they heard in both ears. In this case, the researchers slowly upped the number of items the test subjects were asked to remember during each hearing test.

Instructions for the audio test read 'Repeat back only the numbers you hear in the right ear.'
Sacchinelli, Weaver, Wilson and Cannon - Auburn University

They found that the harder the memory tests got, the more performance varied between the ears. While both ears performed equally when people were asked to remember only four or so words, when the number got higher, the difference between their abilities became more apparent. When asked to only focus on information coming through their right ear, people’s performance on the memory task increased by an average of 8 percent. For some people, the result was even more dramatic—one person performed 40 percent better while listening with only their right ear.

"Conventional research shows that right-ear advantage diminishes around age 13, but our results indicate this is related to the demand of the task,” one of the researchers, assistant professor Aurora Weaver, explained in a press release. In other words, when the going gets tough, the right ear steps up.

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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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