Ankle Exercises

Calf strain exercises

Lower leg and ankle rehabilitation exercises for ankle, shin, and calf injuries. Once pain allows, isometric or static exercises can begin, followed by dynamic strengthening exercises. It is important to include balance or proprioception exercises, as well as more functional or sports specific exercises.

The following guidelines are for information purposes only. We recommend seeking professional advice before beginning rehabilitation.

Isometric ankle exercises

Isometric or static ankle exercises can be performed in the early stages of rehabilitation. They do not involve movement and strengthen the muscle without putting any stress or weight on the injured area.

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  • This exercise is best performed with a therapist or partner providing the resistance. But you can use any immovable surface.
  • Isometric inversion and eversion. This exercise is used to begin to strengthen the ankle invertors (tibialis posterior) and evertors (peroneals) in the early stages of treatment.
  • To strengthen the invertors, the athlete pushes the inside of the foot against a table or chair leg, trying to turn the foot inwards against resistance.
  • To strengthen the evertors, the athlete pushes the outside of the foot against a table or chair leg, trying to turn the foot outwards.

Ankle mobility exercises

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  • Active mobility exercises where the athlete physically moves the joint through a range of motion are often done early on.
  • They will help to increase movement at the joint and also pumping the ankle up and down will help reduce swelling.
  • Exercises can be performed seated or standing.
  • If you have an ankle sprain then only up and down movements should be done initially. Protect the lateral ligaments at the side until they have healed.

Calf raise (plantar flexion)

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  • The calf raise is a widely used exercise to strengthen the calf muscles. There are many variations and resistance machines are also available.
  • They should be done with the knee straight and bent to target both the larger gastrocnemius soleus muscles.

Tibialis posterior (inversion)

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  • The posterior tibialis exercise targets this muscle specifically by combining the two movements which it performs.
  • It is a good muscle to strength to help reduce overpronation.

Ankle inversion

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  • Inversion (also known as pronation) is the movement of turning the foot so that the sole faces inwards.
  • A resistance band is great for this exercise and other ankle exercises.

Resisted eccentric inversion

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  • Resisted eccentric inversion is a great exercise for rehabilitation of ankle sprains. It is important to help reduce the chance of future injuries.
  • It eccentrically strengthens the peroneal muscles so they can control excess ankle inversion.

Toe raises (dorsiflexion)

Toe raise exercise
  • This is an early stage exercise which can be progressed using a resistance band.
  • Dorsiflexion is the movement of pulling the foot upwards.
  • Using a resistance band to perform this movement will strengthen the large tibialis anterior muscle on the outside of the shin.

Eversion ankle exercises

  • Ankle eversion is also sometimes known as supination. It is the movement of turning the foot so the sole faces outwards (away from the other foot).
  • A resistance band is very useful for ankle exercises, but it can also be done with ankle weights.
  • This movement is important for rehabilitation of Peroneal tendonitis and Peroneal tendon rupture.

Heel drops (Achilles tendonitis exercises)

  • The eccentric heel drop places the emphasis of the movement on the downward phase so that the calf muscles must contract as they lengthen to control dorsiflexion.
  • This exercise is the gold standard for treating Achilles tendonitis.

Proprioception ankle exercises

Stork balance exercise - Ankle Proprioception

Proprioception is about our spatial awareness and sense of where parts of our body are. After injury, this is damaged making us more susceptible to re-injury, especially with ankle sprains.

  • Wobble boards are effective for improving your sense of proprioception, which is strongly linked to balance.
  • If you do not have a wobble balance board then doing a range of exercises, standing on one leg can be done.
  • Exercises can start at a very easy level which is suitable for everyone and can easily be progressed for even the most advanced athletes.

Go to Balance & proprioception exercises.


Functional & Plyometric exercises

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These exercises are performed later in the rehabilitation process. They bridge the gap between basic rehabilitation exercises and more sports specific training.

  • Plyometric exercises are explosive movements such as jumps, which work the muscles in a similar way to full training such as sprinting.
  • Numerous exercises can be created using a box or step to jump over.

Go to Plyometric exercises.


Foot exercises

Foot exercises are rarely done. Here we explain a few which strengthen the smaller muscles in the foot.

Spreading the toes

  • Place feet flat on the floor. Spread the toes as far as they will go and then return them together.
  • Repeat this 10 times, rest and then perform a further 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Aim to repeat this exercise 3 times a day, as above.

Forefoot press

  • Place the back half of a foot on a suitable book, and the forefoot on a set of weighing scales, ensuring the foot is horizontal as far as possible.
  • Press down with the forefoot onto the scales to see who much force you generate. Repeat 10 times for each foot.
  • Perform this exercise daily. It is an excellent way of seeing exactly how the strength of the foot is improving.

Toe lifting

  • Place feet flat on the floor and try to lift each toe up in turn. Aim to keep the others flat on the floor – not easy, is it?
  • Perform three sets of each toe.
  • Try to perform this exercise twice a day – at least once.

Pencil lifting

  • Pick up a pencil in the toes. Hold for a count of 6, repeat 10 times.
  • Aim to perform this exercise 3 times a day. An alternative version of this is to repeatedly scrunch up a towel in the toes.

Walking on the toes

  • Simply walk about on tiptoe. Do not wear shoes but perform the exercise barefoot.
  • Aim for 8 sets of 15 to 20 seconds with 20 seconds rest between.
  • Complete the exercise 2 times a day. Progress by increasing the duration of the walks.

Walking on the heels

  • As above but walk on the heals. Aim for 8 sets of 15 to 20 seconds with 20 seconds rest between.
  • Complete the exercise 2 times a day. Progress by increasing the duration of the walks.
This article has been written with reference to the bibliography.

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