Ankle exercises are an important part of rehabilitation and injury prevention. Below are a number of exercises for the lower leg and ankle which are commonly used in physical therapy of ankle injuries. View our ankle sprain exercises for rehabilitation of a sprained ankle or broken ankle exercises for specific rehab of broken ankles. We have separated the ankle rehab exercises below into into early, mid and late stages of rehabilitation.
Early stage exercises aim to regain full movement and start gently strengthening the surrounding muscles.
These would be done as soon as pain allows after a more severe ankle injury. Mid stage ankle exercises can be included once you can weight bear comfortably. Emphasis is also placed on building strength and balance through proprioception or wobble board exercises.
The late stage rehab exercises for ankles are suitable for a return to sport phase and work on the muscles in more dynamic and functional or sport specific ways.
The general principles around physical therapy exercises for ankles are firstly to regain the mobility of the ankle, aiming for full pain free range of movement. This is done with mobility exercises and stretching.
Depending on the type and severity of the injury the next aim is to regain the strength of the ankle. With ankle sprains the ligaments and tendons on the outside of the ankle are most likely to be damaged so more emphasis on exercises to prevent recurrence of the ankle sprain.
In particular eccentric strengthening of the peroneal muscles is important in helping prevent further injury.
Balance or proprioception exercises are also extremely important at the ankle. Wobble boards and cushions are great for helping to regain that sense of positioning and control which is often diminished after an ankle injury. The body has sensors all around it including the ankle which sense where parts of the body are, the amount of stretch in muscles, speed of movement and so on. When the ankle is damaged these sensors or propioceptors are also damaged and balance exercises help repair or re-train the proprioception in the ankle.
Stretching the muscles of the lower leg is also important in injury treatment and prevention. Tight calf muscles can cause many injuries including shin splints and plantar fasciitis. After an injury, the calf muscles also tend to tighten up to protect the joint, so regaining full flexibility is very important for both the treatment of the existing injury and to prevent future ones.
Late stage ankle exercises involve more sports specific or function exercises which relate more to normal daily activities or sports specific training.