Ankle Exercises and Physical Therapy for Injuries

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Get Your Ankle Moving

The ankle joint is one of the major weight-bearing structures in the body. As a result of this function and partly due to its structure, the ankle is often injured when jumping and landing incorrectly. Every year, an estimated 2 million people are seen by a physician for ankle sprains, strains, and fractures.

Injury to an ankle can increase the risk of re-injury to as much as 40 to 70 percent. For this reason, it is important to strengthen and stretch your ankle after an injury to help decrease your risk. Your physical therapist can help you choose the best ankle exercises for your condition.

Rehabilitating your ankle should be done slowly and carefully. Start with non-weight bearing exercises, then move to resisted exercises, and then weight bearing activities as your ankle recovers.

Review the ankle exercises below to rehabilitate your ankle to recovery. Be sure to check in with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise for your ankle. Typically, ankle rehab programs begin with non-weight bearing ankle motion exercises and then progress. Increase reps as you get stronger.

Ankle injuries can be tough to rehab, so working with a physical therapist may be the best way to help you regain mobility and get back to normal activity quickly and safely.

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Non-Weight Bearing Dorisflexion

Non-Weight Bearing Dorisflexion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle, point your foot back toward your nose (while keeping knees straight). Continue until you feel discomfort or can't tilt it back any further.
  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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Non-Weight Bearing Plantar Flexion

Non-Weight Bearing Plantar Flexion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle, point your foot forward (while keeping knees straight). Continue until you feel discomfort or can't move it any further.
  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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Non-Weight Bearing Inversion

Non-Weight Bearing Inversion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot inward, so the sole is facing your other leg. Continue until either discomfort is felt or you can no longer turn your foot inward.

  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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Non-Weight Bearing Eversion

Non-Weight Bearing Eversion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot outward, away from your other leg. Continue until either discomfort is felt or you can no longer turn your foot outward.
  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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The Alphabet

  1. Sit on a chair with your foot dangling in the air or on a bed with your foot hanging off the edge.
  2. Draw the alphabet one letter at a time by moving the injured ankle and using the great toe as your "pencil."

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Eversion Isometrics

Eversion Isometrics
Ben Goldstein

Strengthening exercises are usually started with isometric contractions—no motion occurs around your ankle joint during the muscle contraction. They may be done early after injury or surgery to start to gently—and safely—add force to the muscles that support your ankle.

  1. While seated, place the outside of the injured foot against a table leg or closed door.
  2. Push outward with your foot into the object your foot is against (your ankle joint should not move) causing a contraction of your muscles.
  3. Hold this muscle contraction for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax for 10 seconds.

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Inversion Isometrics

Inversion Isometrics
Ben Goldstein

  1. While seated, place the inside of the injured foot against a table leg or closed door.
  2. Push inward with your foot into the object your foot is against (your ankle joint should not move) causing a contraction of your muscles.
  3. Hold this muscle contraction for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax for 10 seconds.

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Resisted Strengthening Dorsiflexion

Resisted Strengthening Dorsiflexion
Ben Goldstein

Resisted strengthening exercises should be performed with a Theraband providing resistance to your movements. Never tie a Theraband (or anything else) around your foot, ankle, or leg in a way that would restrict blood flow.

These exercises will also work to strengthen the muscles around your ankle. This will provide added support to the joint. Perform each exercise 10 to 15 times in a row.

  1. Moving only your ankle, point your foot back toward your nose (while keeping knees straight). Continue until you feel discomfort or can't tilt it back any further.
  2. Hold this position for two seconds and slowly release.
  3. Return to the neutral position, and then repeat the exercise.

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Resisted Strengthening Plantar Flexion

Resisted Strengthening Plantar Flexion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle, point your foot forward (while keeping knees straight). You may feel tightness in your calf muscle behind your lower leg. Continue until you feel discomfort or can't move it any further.
  2. Hold this position for two seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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Resisted Strengthening Inversion

Resisted Strengthening Inversion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot inward, so the sole is facing your other leg. Continue until either discomfort is felt or you can no longer turn your foot inward.
  2. Hold this position for two seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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Resisted Strengthening Eversion

Resisted Strengthening Eversion
Ben Goldstein

  1. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot outward, away from your other leg. Continue until either discomfort is felt or you can no longer turn your foot outward.
  2. Hold this position for two seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

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Partial Weight-Bearing Seated Calf Raises

Partial Weight-Bearing Seated Calf Raises
Ben Goldstein

These partial weight bearing exercises will help put more weight on the injured ankle as well as strengthen the muscles around it. Each one should be performed 10 times in a row.

  1. Sit in a chair with the injured foot on the floor.
  2. Lift your heel as far as possible while keeping your toes on the floor.
  3. Return heel to the floor.

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Partial Weight-Bearing Standing Weight Shift

Partial Weight-Bearing Standing Weight Shift
Ben Goldstein

  1. Stand upright while holding onto a stable object.
  2. Shift some of your weight onto the injured foot.
  3. Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax and put your weight back onto your uninjured foot.

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Full Weight-Bearing Single Leg Stance

Full Weight-Bearing Single Leg Stance
Ben Goldstein

These exercises will help put more weight on the injured foot. You should be sure that your ankle can tolerate the pressure that you are putting upon it. Checking in with your PT may be necessary to be sure you are doing the right exercises for your ankle. Perform each one 10 times in a row.

  1. Stand on the injured foot while lifting the uninjured foot off the ground.
  2. Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  3. Relax and put your weight back onto your uninjured foot.

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Full Weight-Bearing Standing Calf Raises

Full Weight-Bearing Standing Calf Raises
Ben Goldstein

  1. Stand on the injured foot while lifting the uninjured foot off the ground.
  2. Raise up, standing only on the ball of the injured foot and lifting your heel off the ground.
  3. Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax and put your weight back onto your uninjured foot.

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Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Stepping

Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Stepping
Ben Goldstein

Increase the speed of this exercise as your healing progresses.

  1. Place a rolled towel or short object on the ground to the side of your injured foot.
  2. Step over the towel with the injured foot and remain on that foot.
  3. Then bring the uninjured foot over the object and stand on both feet.
  4. Step back over the towel with the uninjured foot and remain on that foot.
  5. Then bring the injured foot back over the towel and stand on both feet.

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Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Jump

Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Jump
Ben Goldstein

This exercise starts to incorporate plyometrics into your rehab routine, which can help you get back to running and sports. (Increase the speed of this exercise as your healing progresses.)

  1. Place a rolled towel or short object on the ground to the side of your injured foot.
  2. Hop over the towel and land on the injured foot.
  3. Then hop back over the towel and land on the uninjured foot.

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Balance: Single Leg Stance on a Towel

Balance: Single Leg Stance on a Towel
Ben Goldstein

Injury to ankles can often result in decreased balance ability. Towards the end of rehabilitation performing balance activities is an important way to prevent future injury. Perform this exercise 10 times in a row.

  1. Fold a towel into a small rectangle and place on the ground.
  2. Stand with the injured foot on the towel.
  3. Lift the uninjured leg off the ground standing only on the towel with the injured leg.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds. (As balance improves, increase stance time on injured leg up to 45 seconds.)
  5. Return your uninjured foot to the floor.
  6. You can increase the challenge by standing on more unsteady surfaces like a BOSU or wobble board. Your PT may also have you use a BAPS board while working on balance exercises.

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