Sprained Ankle Exercises

sprained ankle exercises

Sprained ankle exercises for recovering from and preventing ankle sprains. Exercises are based on what elite athletes would do but adapted for use by all.

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.

Phil Pask's sprained ankle exercises

Ankle sprain | Exercises | Rehab program | Taping

The sprained ankle exercises below form part of our ankle rehabilitation program. They consist of mobility, strengthening, movement control (balance & coordination), and functional exercises.

The program comprises 4 phases plus a 5th maintenance phase. It is criteria-based, with no timeline. You only move on to the next phase when you have achieved the specific ‘Exit criteria’ for your current phase.

Phase 1 is free to view. Phases 2-5 are available on subscription via our mobile app.

Phase 1: Sprained ankle exercises

Phase 1 is the acute stage and begins immediately after injury. It lasts from 48 hours to a couple of weeks depending on how bad your ankle is. If your injury occurred some time ago then you may progress through this phase more quickly or even skip to phase 2.

The aim of phase 1 is to protect your ankle and reduce pain and swelling. The priority is rest and applying cold compression. This allows your ankle to begin healing. However, there are still a number of exercises you can do.

Sprained ankle exercises in phase 1 consist of mobility, strengthening, activation, and movement control.

Avoid lateral (sideways) movements, which stress the injured ligaments at this stage.

Mobility

Begin mobility exercises as soon as pain allows. This is from day 2 in mild to moderate sprains.

Active ankle mobility

Pull your 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 again.

This exercise maintains tone in your shin and calf muscles without stressing the injured ligaments. In addition, the pumping motion helps decrease swelling.

Other mobility exercises included in phase 1 are Toe crunches to keep the small muscles of your foot working and knee flexion/extension.

Sprained ankle strengthening exercises

These exercises can be done daily as long as pain allows. They are isometric ankle exercises or static muscle contractions involving no movement of the joint.

Isometric dorsiflexion

Static plantar flexion

Isometric inversion

Isometric eversion

Activation exercises

These can be done 2 – 3 times per week. Although not specifically ankle strengthening exercises they are important for keeping your hip muscles firing.

Clam in flexion with band

Clam in extension with band

Double leg bridge with band

Movement control exercises for a sprained ankle

These can be done daily. The purpose of movement control exercises is to restore and improve proprioception. Proprioception is how your body senses where parts of it are in space. Later in the program they become a lot more advanced.

Seated wobble board

Phase 1 exit criteria

In order to move on to phase 2 ankle sprain exercises you must:

  • Have minimal or no swelling in your ankle joint
  • Be able to do a heel-toe walk with less than 2/10 pain

Phase 2: Sprained ankle exercises

sprained ankle exercises

This is the intermediate phase and aims to restore normal function and begin to load your ankle. Exercises are done alongside treatment methods of cold therapy and massage. They consist of:

  • 2 mobility and stretching exercises
  • 2 activation exercises
  • 5 ankle strengthening exercises
  • 4 movement control exercises
  • 4 functional exercises

To move on to phase 3 of our sprained ankle exercises you must:

  • Have minimal or no swelling (still)
  • Equal range of motion in both ankles
  • Be able to step up and down pain-free
  • Perform a hop on your injured leg with less than 3/10 pain
  • Do a single leg heel raise through at least 75% normal range of motion
  • Have full range of movement performing a double leg heel raise

Phase 3: Sprained ankle exercises

sprained ankle movement control exercises

Phase 3 is the main rehabilitation phase and usually begins a minimum of 2 weeks following injury. It comprises the following ankle sprain exercises:

  • 4 mobility and stretching exercises
  • 5 activation exercises
  • 3 strengthening exercises
  • 8 movement control exercises
  • 5 functional ankle sprain exercises

By the end of phase 3 you should:

  • Be able to hop 3 times for distance with less than 10% difference between legs
  • Do 20 or more straight leg heel raises in 30 seconds

Phase 4: Sprained ankle exercises

sprained ankle exercises forward T

Phase 4 is the end stage where we get you back to normal sports activity. At the end of this phase, we expect you to be at a level you were pre-injury. This level needs to test you.

  • 3 mobility and stretching exercises
  • 6 activation exercises
  • 3 strengthening exercises
  • 3 movement control exercises
  • 4 functional exercises

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