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Easy Exercises for a Sprained Ankle

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT January 16, 2020 0 Comments

Once your injured ankle is ready, and your doctor has cleared you for rehab, starting an exercise routine to strengthen the ankle is important for restoring its function. To get back your everyday routine with normal strength and coordination, try these sprained ankle exercises.

Strengthening Exercises

Resistance Ankle Eversion

Long sit with the leg you will use straight out in front of you. Place the middle of a resistance band around the outside edge of your foot (it should be level with the ball of your foot). Secure the other side of the band around a sturdy object like a table leg so that it’s parallel to the leg (you can also hold it out to the side or have someone hold it). Then, slowly bring the toes out toward the shin against the resistance. Slowly return to the starting position with control. You will feel the lateral muscles in the lower leg working with this exercise.

Repeat 15 to 20 times, for 2 to 3 sets. When possible, progress the level of resistance band.

Resistance Band Ankle Inversion

You will set up your ankle the same way as above, except with the middle of the band now on the inner edge of the big toe and arch. The ends of the band will now be secured on the outside edge of the foot, still parallel. You will then slowly bring your toes inward. The motion will be small. Try not to point the toes.

Repeat 15-20 times, 2-3 sets total.

Resistance Band Plantar Flexion

To strengthen the calf muscles, start with a foam roller , pillow, or rolled towel under your lower leg to allow easier ankle movement.  Place the middle of the resistance band directly under the ball of the foot, holding each end of the resistance band with your hands. Then, slowly point the toes as far as possible, before slowly returning to the starting position (you may feel a gentle calf stretch with the return).  

Repeat 15-20 times, 2-3 sets total.   

Resistance Band Dorsiflexion

Place the middle of the band around the top of your foot, securing it below your foot to a sturdy object (or have someone hold it). Bring the toes up toward the shin against the resistance and return. Keep the motion slow and controlled. Make sure the movement is coming primarily from the ankle and not the toes.

Repeat 15-20 times, 2-3 sets total.

Calf Raises

This can be done either on the ground or standing on a step (with the balls of the feet on the edge). You will simply lift the heels off the ground and then return to the starting position (letting the heels drop below the step if on one). Make sure your weight is evenly distributed throughout your toes as you come up onto them. The heel shouldn’t be wobbling around, otherwise try a smaller range of motion if you need to.

Repeat 10 times, 2-3 times. Progress to one leg at a time when ready.

Toe Raises

Standing in a comfortable position, you will simply lift the entire top of the foot and toes up toward the shins. Keep the motion small and avoid bending at the hips or back. Alternatively, you can lean backward against a wall to give yourself slightly more range to work from.

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

Other Ways to Exercise Your Ankle

Balance Trainers

The next step in your ankle strengthening progression, after doing resistance bands and bodyweight moves, will be to challenge your balance. Balance exercises will bring an important coordination component into your routine. There are many great ways to challenge your balance by simply standing on an inflatable disc, wooden disc, or foam pad.

Ways to challenge your balance:

  • Single leg standing
  • Standing on a balance tool, with both or on one foot.
  • Doing calf or toes raises on a balance tool
  • Multi-tasking while standing on one leg or on a balance tool (or both!). Including activities such as ball throwing and counting.

Dynamic Exercises

As your ankle strength and coordination progress, it’s important to start adding more functional activities to your routine. This might include lunges, squats, jumping, and more. There are so many options. Choose ones that challenge you and are relevant to the normal activities that you do. This means that if you enjoy biking versus running or yoga you might choose slightly different moves to maximize the benefits.

When to Start Exercises

You should start exercising your injured foot and ankle as soon as possible. Typically, this is within three days of the injury, or more if the pain or instability is too severe. You will then gradually progress the level of intensity and difficulty as you can tolerate. Check with your doctor and consider working with a physical therapist if you’re not sure when or where to start. If strengthening is too much initially, it is important to at least stretch the ankle to maintain as much range of motion as possible.

Try these stretches for a Sprained Ankle

Get Back to Walking After a Sprained Ankle

Benefits of Strengthening Exercises

When the ankle is injured, pain, rest, and swelling will inadvertently lead to decreased strength and coordination. Thus, a strengthening program is crucial for regaining these losses. A well-balanced strength program will:

  • add stability to the ankle and can help prevent future injury.
  • restore loss of ankle proprioception, your body’s awareness of where and how your joint is moving in space.

How often Should I Perform Exercises?

Once you are ready to get started with your ankle routine, you will begin with more basic exercises once or twice daily for the first 4-6 weeks. You will then gradually progress your repetitions, intensity, level of resistance and overall level of difficulty. As you build to more difficult exercises and you feel confident with your program, you can maintain your progress with an exercise program 3-4 times per week.;

The Safe Way to Exercise a Sprained Ankle

Everyone will start and progress through exercise programs differently. It all depends on the severity of the injury, previous level of fitness, and level of pain. Start slow and increase the difficulty one increment at a time to prevent re-injury and promote the best results.

If you experience worsening of your symptoms, including excessive pain, swelling, changes in strength or sensation, or any other concerns talk to a trusted healthcare professional for recommendations or further assessment (such as a physical therapist or orthopedic doctor).



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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