Ankle Exercises - A Complete Guide

1
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%. For this reason it is important to strengthen and stretch your ankle after injury to help decrease your risk. Your physical therapist can help you choose the best ankle exercises for you condition.

Rehabilitating your ankle should be done slowly and carefully. Start with non-weight bearing exercises, moving 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.

2
Range of Motion Exercises - Non Weight Bearing

Photo of physical therapist assessing ankle mobility.
Your PT can help you restore ankle range of motion. Jeannot Olivet/Getty Images

Use these exercises to increase ankle range of motion after injury. Typically, ankle rehab programs begin with non-weight bearing ankle motion exercises.

All exercises (except The Alphabet) should be performed while sitting on the floor or another flat surface with your legs fully extended, knees straight, out in front of you. Each exercise should be performed 10 times in a row.

Dorsiflexion

  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.

Plantar flexion

  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.

Inversion

  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.

Eversion

  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.

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."

3
Isometric Strengthening Exercises

Do these exercises to strengthen the muscles around your ankle. This will provided added support to the joint. Each exercise should be repeated between 5 and 10 times; increase the number of repetitions as you get stronger. Strengthening exercises are usually started with isometric contractions - no motion occurs around your ankle joint durign 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.

Eversion Isometrics

  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.

Inversion Isometrics

  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.

4
Resisted Strengthening Exercises


These exercises will also work to strengthen the muscles around your ankle. This will provided added support to the joint.

Each exercise should be performed with a Theraband providing resistance to your movements. For example, if the exercise involves moving your foot toward the right, tie the Theraband in a big loop around a table leg to your left and place your foot in that loop to make the exercise more difficult. Never tie a Theraband (or anything else) around your foot, ankle, or leg in a way that would restrict blood flow. Perform each exercise 10 to 15 times in a row.

Dorsiflexion

  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 2 seconds and slowly release.
  3. Return to neutral position, and then repeat the exercise.

Plantar flexion

  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 2 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

Inversion

  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 2 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

Eversion

  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 2 seconds.
  3. Return to neutral position.

5
Partial Weight-Bearing Exercises

These 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.

Seated Calf Raise

  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.

Standing Weight Shift

  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.

6
Full Weight-Bearing Exercises

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.

Single Leg Stance

  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.

Standing Calf Raise

  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.

Lateral Stepping

(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.

Lateral Jump

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.

7
Balance Activities

Photo of a wobble board.
A wobble board can provide an unsteady surface on which to perform balance exercises. Rollover/Getty Images

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.

Single Leg Stance on a Towel

  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. Your 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.

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.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

Continue Reading