Ankle Strengthening Exercise Program

Overview of Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Photo of PT working with woman's ankle.
Your PT can help you strengthen your ankle after fracture. BraunS/Getty Images

Strong ankles are important for preventing as well as recovering from ankle sprains, strains, and fractures. If you have suffered any ankle injury, visit your doctor and then check in with your physical therapist to learn what you should do to restore your normal range of motion (ROM) and functional mobility. Your physical therapist may use various therapeutic modalities to help you recover, and an ankle strengthening exercise program may be prescribed to improve your ankle strength.

To begin, it is imporant to understand the various motions around your ankle.

There and four basic motions of the ankle joint. These are:

  • Plantar Flexion: This is the motion we perform when pointing our toes
  • Dorsi Flexion:  This is the motion we perform when pulling our toes upward off the ground
  • Inversion: This is the motion we perform when we point our toes inward
  • Eversion: This is the motion we perform when we point our toes outward

Ankle sprains often occur when there is excessive inversion of the ankle joint. Strong evertors of the ankle can often help limit this motion and prevent ankle sprains. Some people sprain their ankle when it rolls through eversion, but this is rare.

After an injury like an ankle fracture, your PT may prescribe various strengthening exercises to help you regain normal mobility. Your therapist may have your perform exercises like the ones in this step-by-step exercise progression for strong ankles.

Review some of the ankle strengthening exercises in this ankle rehab program, and check in with your PT to make sure it is the correct program for you.

As always, discuss any exercise program with your doctor before performing it.

Ankle Plantarflexion

Ankle Plantarflexion. Picture by Dr. Laura Inverarity

Ankle plantar flexion is a great way to strengthen your calf muscles. These help to support the back of your ankles and lower legs. The great thing about this exercise: it can be done anywhere. Here is how you do it:

  1. Stand in front of a table or chair
  2. Place your hands on the table  for balance
  3. Raise yourself up on the balls of your feet
  4. Remain on your toes for six seconds
  5. Slowly return to standing position
  6. Repeat 10 times

This exercise should be done slowly and rhythmically. It is a great exercise to strengthen your ankles, and it has the added bonus of giving you shapely calves.

Ankle Dorsiflexion

Weakness in your anterior tibial muscle may occur after an ankle injury, or you may suffer from foot drop due to a neurological injury such as a stroke or sciatica. Your PT can prescribe an anterior tibial strengthening program for you. Here is a simple ankle dorsiflexion exercise to get you started:

  1. Stand in front of a table or chair
  2. Place your hands on the table for balance
  3. Rock back on your heals lifting your toes off the floor
  4. Remain on your heals for six seconds
  5. Slowly return to standing position
  6. Repeat 10 times

If your ankle dorsiflexion weakness is persistent, your physical therapist may try some more aggressive tactics like using NMES to improve neuromuscular recruitment of those muscles that help raise your toes and ankle.

Ankle Inversion and Eversion

Ankle Inversion. Picture by Dr. Laura Inverarity

Strengthen the muscles on the inside and outer part of your ankles is an important step to take to reducing ankle injuries. Here is a great way to do that:

  1. Sit up straight with your back against a wall and your feet out in front of you with your knees straight
  2. Slowly turn your left foot inward and hold this position for six seconds
  3. Now turn your foot slowly outward and hold for another six seconds
  4. Repeat this exercise 10 times
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 with the right foot

For added difficulty use theraband to provide resistance. Your PT can provide one for you. Strong ankle inversion and eversion is an important component to maintaining good balance as well and may be part of an advanced balance training program.

The 'Alphabet'

A great way to progress your ankle strengthening is to try the alphabet ankle exercise. This gets all of your muscles around your ankle and foot working together. Here is how you do it:

  1. Sit on a chair with your legs off the ground
  2. Write the entire alphabet in the air with one foot (capital or lowercase - your choice)
  3. Repeat with the opposite foot

This exercise will use all of the muscles of the ankle and is great to get everything working together.

After an ankle injury, you may benefit from physical therapy to help you recover fully and return to your normal activity level. An ankle strengthening program - like this sample ankle rehab program - is a great way to start to get your ankles moving again.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT - PT Expert

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