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The Best Exercises for Broken Ankles

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT December 22, 2021 0 Comments

broken ankle exercise

If you have a fractured ankle, these exercises for a broken ankle are the perfect place to start (once your doctor has given the all clear). Chances are you’ve been resting in a walking boot or cast for up to 6 weeks and you will find your ankle feeling stiff, sore and weak. Knowing where to start and how to progress can help you get on track to recovery as soon as possible. Keep scrolling for the best exercises for a broken ankle.

The Perfect Ankle Warm Up

Your ankle will feel stiff when pointing your toes after being in a boot or cast for several weeks. Before getting started, warm up your stiff ankle by simply alternating between pointing your toes and bending your ankle is enough. From there, progress to the exercises below (as tolerated).

Not sure if you have a broken or sprained ankle? Find out here

Range of Motion Exercises

Ankle range of motion will help boost both joint and ankle mobility to the surrounding tissue (muscle, ligaments, etc.) flexibility. Start small and build your range as you feel comfortable. Never force anything that feels painful.

Seated Calf Stretch

Grab a stretch strap, belt or towel for this one and sit down on a comfortable chair. Wrap the strap around the ball of your foot to get started. Then, straighten your knee as you secure the ends in each hand. Pull the toes back toward your chest until you feel a strong stretch in the calf and hold.

Hold for 20+ seconds for 2-3 sets.

Seated Ankle Rotation

Sit comfortably in your chair. Lift the foot you want to stretch off the ground. Then, simply rotate your ankle in a circle as if you are drawing a large circle with your toes. Rotate 5-10 times in one direction before repeating in the opposite direction. If you are still wearing a brace or boot, start this exercise gently and with caution.

Repeat 10 times in each direction for 2-3 sets total.

Standing Runners Calf Stretch

Stand near a chair or wall for balance support. Then, step the foot of the injured ankle back and place the foot flat on the floor with the toes pointing straight forward. Keep the back knee straight as you bend your front knee and shift your weight forward. Keep your back heel on the ground and keep shifting until you feel a strong stretch between the heel and knee in the calf muscles. Only complete this exercise if you’ve been cleared for weight bearing.

Hold for 20+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Ankle Plantar Flexion Stretch

When you are cleared to bear weight, you can try this more intense stretch to boost your plantar flexion range of motion. Stand near the wall or a chair for balance, then lift your foot and place the top of your foot flat on the floor with the toes pointed straight back. Bend your opposite knee as you try to further straighten your ankle to feel a stretch in the shin. To get a deeper stretch, you can bring your toes inward (toward the middle of your body).

Hold 20+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each side.

Strengthening Exercises

When first starting an ankle strengthening routine for your fractured ankle, start with unweighted exercises to promote circulation and movement. With time increase resistance and re-incorporate some of your standing activities, and the balance exercises below.

Resisted Plantar Flexion

Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Grab a resistance band, starting with light resistance to see how it feels. Place the band around the bottom of your foot near the ball of the foot. Then, push down against the band to point your toes forward as far as is comfortable. Hold for an extra second before slowly returning to the starting position. Keep the toes in line with the shin throughout the exercise.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Resisted Ankle Eversion

Next, grab both ends of the band with your opposite hand and wrap the band around the other foot for leverage. Alternatively, you can tie the band into a circle and wrap it around both feet. Then, push the outside edge of the foot against the band as you turn the ankle sideways and away from your body. Keep the motion slow and controlled in both directions while keeping the ankle in a comfortably bent position. Do not let the hips rotate.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Resisted Ankle Inversion

Lastly, place the band ends in the same hand and cross your legs with the banded foot on top. Hold your hand out to the side to provide medial resistance (the opposite of the last exercise). Push the inside of the foot inward as far as you can comfortably go before returning slowly to the starting position. Keep the hips stable- no rotation.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Seated Toe Taps

Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor about hip width apart. Keep your heels on the ground as you lift the toes up off the ground toward the ceiling. Go as high as is comfortable before returning to the starting position. To make it harder, you can add an ankle weight to the toes or pause for longer at the top. To add more range of motion, you can alternate with lifting the heels of the ground while keeping the toes planted as well.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets total.

Balance and Proprioception Exercises

With any foot or ankle injury, the ankle mobility, proper coordination, and sense where it is in space (proprioception) are affected. Thus, balance exercises are always an important step. Start with these simple exercises and then progress to doing them on a balance foam pad or with your eyes closed. With balance exercise, always take extra precaution to prevent falling.

Single Leg Stance

Stand near a chair or wall for balance. Simply shift your weight into one leg and lift the other foot. If possible, balance on one leg without assistance. If needed, use light touch for balance with your hand or finger. Focusing your vision on one spot can also help to start. Increase the difficulty as needed by standing on a soft surface or moving your head while completing this exercise.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Tandem Stance

Stand with the feet in tandem, meaning the toes of one foot are touching the heel of the other foot. You may find one foot is easier to have in front than the other, so don’t forget to alternate. Once in position, simply focus on staying balanced. If too hard, bring the feet a few inches apart.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-4 sets.

Alternating Side Step

Stand comfortably somewhere where you can balance near a chair, counter or wall with your feet hip width apart. Then, step to the side with one foot as far as possible before returning it to your original standing position. Alternate side-stepping. To make it harder, stand on a softer surface or bend the stationary knee to turn it into a side lunge.

Repeat 10-15 times on each leg for up to 3 sets.

Wobble Board

A wobble board is a great higher level lower leg and body exercise and balance tool. It helps build ankle coordination and core strength for daily activities and sports. You can step on the board with one foot in the center or two feet balanced on each side of the board. Once on the board, you can simply focus on balancing in the center or practice moving the board to touch it to the floor at specific points. All are great after an ankle injury. Always make sure to stay in a safe location with help if needed to prevent falling.

Wobble Cushion

The wobble cushion is similar to the wobble board for challenging balance. When placing both feet on the cushion, they will be closer together than on the board which will challenge your double leg balance further. You can simply stand on the cushion with one foot in the center or with two feet together. Great exercises for the cushion include squats, steps ups, side steps, and single leg balance.

Benefits of Ankle Exercises

Regardless of how severe your ankle fracture was, starting exercise as soon as possible will get you back to your favorite daily activities without pain or stiffness quicker. Some of the other great benefits of exercise include:

  • Better pain management
  • Increased strength and coordination for daily activities
  • Improved ankle joint range of motion
  • Decreased risk of future ankle injuries
  • Better quality of life
  • A great adjunct to other ankle injury treatment options

Other Broken Ankle Treatments for Pain Relief

Exercise Tips

Getting back to exercise after a fracture can feel frustrating and leaving you wondering how to navigate your recovery. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your exercises:

  • Wait for clearance from your doctor to start any type of exercise
  • Always use your symptoms as guide for when to modify and progress exercise
  • Warm up your ankle before exercise if needed with massage, heat, or ice
  • Consider use of a brace or supportive shoes as needed for ankle instability
  • If you’re not sure where to start, physical therapy can guide you to maximize recovery. A physical therapist can give you a personalized home rehab program

More Ankle Injury Recovery Tips

Keeping the Ankle Protected During Exercise

Exercising after a fractured ankle requires a delicate balance of rest and movement. No exercise should be started until the broken ankle has stabilized itself through healing and proper rest. Start slowly with guidance from your doctor or physical therapist. If you experience a sudden change in symptoms or they don’t improve, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.


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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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