Guide to Ankle Injuries and Rehabilitation

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The ankle joint is medically known as the talocrural joint. It is formed by three bones: the tibia, fibula, and talus that are supported by strong ligaments. As the ankles support the weight of the entire body, ankle injuries are very common. Each year, approximately 2 million patients are treated for ankle injuries. Use this resource to learn about ankle anatomy, injuries, and rehabilitation.

Common Injuries

Ankle Sprain: A sprained ankle results when the ligaments of the ankle joint are stretched past their normal range. This results in ligamentous tears that can vary between small rips to complete disruption of the ligament. Most ankle sprains occur during sports events that include activities such as running, jumping, or walking. Initial symptoms of a sprained ankle include pain, tenderness to touch, swelling, bruising, inability to walk or stand, and joint stiffness.

Ankle sprains comprise one of the most common injuries of the ankle. If you have sustained an ankle sprain, knowing what ligaments are involved can help in a better understanding of your injury.

Achilles Tendonitis: The Achilles tendon is the large tendon located on the back of the heel. It is formed by the insertion of the calf muscle onto the heel bone. Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury, that occurs when repetitive use of this tendon results in little tears throughout the tissue. Common activities/conditions that result in Achilles tendonitis include: running, jumping, tight calf muscles, and excessively flat feet.

Arthritis: Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the ankle joint. Although they are different disorders, each can result in significant discomfort and pain during activity and rest.

Stress Fractures: A stress fracture is another type of overuse injury. It occurs when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock. Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone causing a tiny crack. This crack is called a stress fracture.


Disorders of the ankle require a comprehensive rehabilitation program including rest, stretching, and strengthening in order to make a full recovery. Each step plays an important role in regaining function after an injury. Learn how to rehab your ankle.

  • Ankle First Aid: RICE is the first aid acronym used for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. It is the initial step to take after sustaining an ankle injury. The combination of RICE helps reduce inflammation that occurs after acute injury. It is important to remember that the earlier this treatment is put into place, the more effective it is.
  • Ankle Stretching Exercises: Early stretching after sustaining an ankle injury is an important step in the rehabilitation process. With the prolonged period of rest that is required after suffering an ankle injury, the muscles around the joint often become shortened and tight. This results in a decreased amount of available motion around the ankle joint. To prevent further injury, it is important to begin gentle stretches of your injured ankle as soon as approved by your physician.
  • Balance Exercises: Improving balance and proprioception can help you gain stability in your ankle joint and help you prevent future episodes of ankle injuries. Balance exercises may include the single-leg stance, the BAPS board, or the T-stance exercise. Your PT can show you which balance exercises are best for your ankle.

If you have an ankle injury, checking in with your physical therapist is a good idea. Your PT can assess your condition and make recommendations about the proper treatment. Exercises that focus on improving ankle range of motion, strength, and stability can help you quickly recover and get back to your normal activities.

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Article Sources
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  • Journal of Athletic Training, Rehabilitation of the Ankle After Acute Sprain or Chronic Instability, 2002 Oct–Dec; 37(4): 413–429.