The following ankle sprain exercises form part of our Ankle sprain rehabilitation program. Created by International Sports Physiotherapist Phil Pask they include ankle mobility, stretching, strengthening, activation, movement control and function exercises.
When can I begin sprained ankle exercises?
You can begin some exercises a day or so after injury, depending on how bad your sprain is. However, wait until the initial acute phase has passed before trying to really make progress. Exercises should always be pain-free. If it hurts, don’t do it is the general rule here.
Sprained ankle mobility and stretching exercises
If you have sprained your ankle then you need to be careful about sideways or lateral movements. This is because you may stress and re-injure your sprained ligament.
Active ankle mobility
Pull the foot up as far as it will go (dorsiflexion). Hold for a couple of seconds and then point it away from you (plantar flexion) and hold, then repeat. Avoid sideways (lateral) movements that may stress the injured ligament.
This exercise maintains ankle mobility without stressing the injured ligaments by sideways movement. Also, the pumping action of the calf muscles induces a pumping motion which helps to decrease swelling.
Seated wobble board
Whilst sitting down place the wobble board under the feet and slowly rotate it a number of times in each direction. This is a gentle way of improving ankle range of motion and control post-injury.
Balance board-type exercises are best performed on bare feet and on a soft floor such as a carpet (not deep-pile!) or a rug or mat, rather than a hard floor such as wood as the board is liable to slip.
Sustained calf stretch
Wrap a resistance band around both feet. Hold the other end of the band and pull your feet towards you. Hold this position for 2 minutes.
Sprained ankle strengthening exercises
These exercises strengthen the ankle joint following an ankle sprain. In the early stages of rehabilitation, you focus on isometric or static strengthening exercises. In particular, those which do not involve sideways or lateral movement. This is so you protect the injured ligament. Later ankle strengthening exercises involved movement.
These ankle sprain exercises work the joint in all directions statically. This means without movement. Isometric ankle sprain exercises often form part of the early stages of rehabilitation as long as pain allows. The aim is to contract your muscles using the band as resistance to prevent movement. Make sure to include inversion, eversion, plantar flexion, and dorsiflexion.
Isometric partner exercises
This exercise is best performed with a therapist or partner providing resistance. But you can use any immovable object, for example, a table leg.
To strengthen the invertors (tibialis posterior muscle) push the inside of the foot against a table or chair leg. Try to turn the foot inwards against resistance. To strengthen the evertors (peroneal muscles), push the outside of your foot against a table or chair leg. Try to turn the foot outwards.
Slow ankle inversion
Wrap a resistance band around the forefoot and anchor it to a table leg, or get a partner to hold it. This exercise works the ankle inverter muscles as you turn your foot slowly inwards against the resistance of the band. Aim for 6-second reps.
Slow ankle eversion
Ankle eversion is also sometimes known as supination and is the movement of turning the foot so the sole faces outwards (away from the other foot).
Bent knee calf raises
Step down counterbalance front
Step down counterbalance side
Using a long pole to aid balance, step down slowly off the back of a step. Keep the movement slow and controlled all the way down, then return to the starting position.
Using a long pole to aid balance, step down slowly to the side. Keep the movement slow and controlled all the way down, then return to the starting position.
Heel raise in lunge
Go into a lunge position with your foot either flat on the floor, or slightly raised on a step or block. Keep in the lunge position as you perform heel raise exercises at the ankle.
Movement control ankle sprain exercises
These are important sprained ankle exercises. They improve proprioception, which is your body’s ability to sense where parts of it are in space. This is damaged when you sprain your ankle. As a result, you are more susceptible to recurrent sprains if you fail to do movement control exercises for ankle sprains.
Standing wobble board
Stand on the wobble board with one leg. Rock the board from front to back and then side to side (30 seconds each). Rotate the board in a circular motion in one direction for 30 seconds then repeat in the other direction. Perform this with both legs for easy and single leg to make it harder.
Single leg balance
Begin by standing on the injured leg for just 30 seconds. Once this is easy, close your eyes to increase the difficulty.
Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Lean forwards, open up your arms pulling the non-supporting leg backwards to make the shape of a ‘T’. Maintain balance for 4 or 5 seconds and repeat.
Forward T to Spiderman
Lunge lean hold
Lunge onto the forward leg and get your balance. Then lean forwards over the supporting leg, lifting the back leg up into the ‘T’ position. Hold for 5 seconds then bring the back leg through, knee up in front to finish.
Functional sprained ankle exercises
These exercises are more dynamic and bridge the gap between basic sprained ankle strengthening exercises and returning to normal activity.
A lock at wall
Leaning tower exercise, also known as ‘A’ lock is performed against a wall. Drive the knee upwards and hold the position.
A march linear
A march lateral
March sideways with a high knee lift and a firm foot placement on the floor. Either flat-footed or if your ankles are feeling good you can go up onto your toes.
Start with a heel strike and once you get to the forefoot push-off, come up onto the toes. Swing the other leg forward and heel strike with the next foot to continue. Make sure you do this slowly and under complete control.
Activation ankle sprain exercises
Although not specifically for strengthening the ankles, these form an important part of our Ankle sprain rehab program. They keep the hip muscles firing and working well.
Place a resistance band around your knees and walk sideways. Keep good athletic posture and stance. This gets the hip muscles firing and fatiguing under bodyweight load.
Place a resistance band around your knees to increase the load on your lateral hip muscles. Walk forward and backwards. Maintain a good posture by keeping your head and chest up.
Program author: Phil Pask
Phil is one of the World’s most experienced Sports Physiotherapists. He has been England Senior Rugby Team Physiotherapist since 1997, continuing his role in recent years as Consultant Physio to the team. He was a player, physio, and head of performance at Northampton Saints from 1986 – 2002.