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Ankle arthritis, most often caused by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to pain and stiffness that affect your ability to participate in the activities you love. For those with arthritis in the ankle, exercises can be a beneficial tool for reducing inflammation and other painful symptoms. With the help of some of our favorite physical therapists, we’ve put together the best ankle arthritis exercises to add to your routine.
There are some major benefits to regularly strengthening and stretching the ankle joint, including some much needed joint pain relief. Exercises help promote better blood flow for healing, reduces local swelling, restores tissue extensibility and so much more. Ultimately, these benefits mean you can expect a reduction in flare-ups and ankle pain from daily activities and increase your tolerance.
(If you’d like some guidance with these exercises and more, consider scheduling a round of physical therapy.)
Decreased ankle range of motion can affect simple daily activities like your ability to stand or walk. Regularly focusing on ankle flexibility and joint range of motion can make a huge difference.
If your symptoms are moderate to severe, try to stretch daily. With time, as your symptoms decrease, you may only need to stretch before certain aggravating activities. Please keep in mind that if you have any bone spurs in your foot or ankle (if you’re aware of them), never force an exercise that feels “off.”
You can complete this exercise seated or long sitting on the floor (or even in your bed). It is great for increasing both ankle plantarflexion and dorsiflexion in one fluid motion.
This exercise is great for boosting general ankle range of motion in all directions.
Grab a dual calf stretcher for this specific stretch. The calves (and achilles tendon) are notoriously tight with any foot and ankle issues, so you can get some serious relief with this one.
If you don’t have a calf stretcher, there are plenty of other great options. These include sitting (on the floor or in a chair) with a stretch strap around the ball of the foot or a standing lunge.
This is a great exercise for the foot and ankle since the entire area can get stiff when arthritis is present. Any exercise that promotes blood flow can give you great relief.
The foot and ankle is a relatively small area in the body, yet there’s a lot going on. The number of muscles that cross the ankle for proper leg and foot function is big. Keeping these muscles in balance and strong will help you preserve the best possible function for your affected joints.
This is a great exercise for building calf strength, a key muscle for coordinating everyday moves like walking and standing. You can start with both feet together and eventually progress to a single leg calf raise when you’re comfortable.
This exercise is great for strengthening the top of the foot, ankle, and shin while also promoting active ankle range of motion. Keep in mind that the motion should be small and pain free.
Strengthening all the small muscle groups that help control the ankle is always beneficial. Grab a light to moderate resistance band. Repeat each exercise for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total, focusing on staying slow and in control.
This exercise is a great catch all high level exercise that helps you coordinate the entire lower body and core at once. It is great for boosting overall ankle stability.
Self massage is a great economical way to get quick relief from lower leg pain and stiffness. When massaging the ankle, foot, or lower leg, it's always important to choose a pressure that you can tolerate without tensing up. To gain the most benefits, you should be able to relax. If you need more help with managing symptoms and treatment, see our full article on treating ankle arthritis.
This technique addresses the bottom of the foot, specifically the plantar fascia. Getting this area to relax can have great benefits for your ankle.
There are a couple different options here for massaging the calf. This large muscle group can easily become stiff with ankle arthritis.
There is no better exercise for gaining functional benefits than walking. We all must do it in some form on a daily basis. It is a great form of daily exercise as well to manage proper body weight and achieve a healthy weight that reduces strain on the ankle ligaments. That’s why it is a great option for ankle arthritis as long as your symptoms are manageable. If you can walk comfortably without a significant limp or increased pain, then go for it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
With these exercises and close attention to your symptoms, you should notice a gradual improvement in your ankle function to be able to return to your normal daily activities. The biggest benefit is the confidence you will gain in your own ankle. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always talk to your orthopedic doctor, podiatrist, or physical therapist for advice on getting started.
As always, if your symptoms aren’t improving, they are affecting your quality of life, or getting worse- get in touch with a medical professional for further medical advice. For extreme cases, a joint replacement may be required.Ankle Arthritis Products
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