Ankle Exercises and Physical Therapy for Ankle Injuries

The ankle joint is one of the major weight-bearing joints in the body. As a result of this function and partly due to its structure, the ankle is often injured, such as when jumping and landing incorrectly.

Healthcare providers see an estimated two million people for ankle sprains, strains, and fractures every year. After an ankle injury, as many as 30% to 70% of people will experience chronic ankle instability, where the ankle is weakened and prone to another injury.

For this reason, it is important to strengthen and stretch your ankle after an injury to help lower your risk. Your physical therapist (PT) can help you choose the best ankle exercises for your condition. In addition, they can guide you in your rehab and help you gain ankle mobility and strength.


It can be tough to recover from ankle injuries. Therefore, rehabilitating your ankle should be done slowly and carefully.

Typically, ankle rehab programs begin with non-weight-bearing ankle motion exercises. They then progress to weight-bearing exercises and increase reps as you get stronger.

Working with a physical therapist may be the best way to help you regain normal use of your ankle. Soon, you can safely get back to normal activity.

Review the ankle exercises below to help your ankle recover. Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before starting any exercise for your ankle.

Non-Weight Bearing Dorsiflexion

Non-Weight Bearing Dorisflexion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Ankle dorsiflexion is the motion of bending your ankle up towards your shin. Making this motion can help you regain the ability to walk normally again. Here's how to do the exercise:

  1. Straighten your knee.
  2. Moving only your ankle, point your foot back toward your nose. Continue until you feel discomfort or can't tilt it back any further.
  3. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  4. Return to a neutral position and repeat five times.

Non-Weight Bearing Plantar Flexion

Non-Weight Bearing Plantar Flexion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Plantar flexion is the motion of pointing your ankle down and away from you. Here is how you can gain range of motion (ROM) using this exercise:

  1. Straighten your knee.
  2. Moving only your ankle, point your foot forward. Continue until you feel discomfort or can't move it any further.
  3. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  4. Return to a neutral position.

Non-Weight Bearing Inversion

Non-Weight Bearing Inversion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Inversion refers to the motion of pointing your ankle inwards towards the middle of your body. Here is how you do this exercise:

  1. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot inward. The sole of your foot should be facing your other leg. Continue until you either feel discomfort or you can no longer turn your foot inward.
  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  3. Return to a neutral position.

Non-Weight Bearing Eversion

Non-Weight Bearing Eversion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Eversion is the motion of moving your ankle to the outside (lateral) part of your ​leg. Perform this exercise to gain outward motion in your ankle:

  1. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot outward, away from your other leg. Continue until either you feel discomfort or you can no longer turn your foot outward.
  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  3. Return to a neutral position.

The Alphabet

The ankle alphabet helps people gain ankle mobility in all directions. Here is how to do the exercise:

  1. Sit on a chair or a bed with your foot dangling off the edge.
  2. Then, draw the alphabet one letter at a time by moving the injured ankle and using the big toe as your "pencil."

Eversion Isometrics

Eversion Isometrics

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Strengthening exercises are usually started with isometric contractions. That means your ankle joint doesn't move during the muscle contraction (tension).

You may do these exercises early after injury or surgery. They allow you to gently and safely add force to the muscles that support your ankle.

Eversion focuses on pushing the ankle outward. To do the exercise:

  1. While seated, place the outside of the injured foot against a table leg or closed door.
  2. Push outward with your foot into the object your foot is against, causing a contraction of your muscles. Your ankle joint should not move.
  3. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax for 10 seconds.

Inversion Isometrics

Inversion Isometrics

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This isometric exercise focuses on inversion, which involves pushing the ankle inward. To do the exercise:

  1. While seated, place the inside of the injured foot against a table leg or closed door.
  2. Push inward with your foot into the object your foot is against, causing a contraction of your muscles. Your ankle joint should not move.
  3. Hold this muscle contraction for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax for 10 seconds.

Resisted Strengthening Dorsiflexion

Resisted Strengthening Dorsiflexion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You should perform resisted strengthening exercises with a Theraband. This provides resistance to your movements.

These exercises will also work to strengthen the muscles around your ankle. This will provide added support to the joint. Perform each exercise 10 to 15 times in a row.

Never tie a Theraband (or anything else) around your foot, ankle, or leg in a way that would restrict blood flow.

This resistance exercise helps to strengthen your anterior tibialis, the muscle in the front of your shin. Here is how you do it:

  1. Tie the band around a table leg. Place your foot inside the band, with the band across the top of the foot.
  2. Moving only your ankle, point your foot back toward your nose (while keeping knees straight). Continue until you feel discomfort or can't tilt it back any further.
  3. Hold this position for 2 seconds and slowly release.
  4. Return to the neutral position, and then repeat the exercise.

Resisted Strengthening Plantar Flexion

Resisted Strengthening Plantar Flexion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Resisted ankle plantar flexion helps to strengthen your calf muscles and Achilles tendon (the big tendon in the back of your ankle). It also uses an exercise band to provide resistance.

To do the exercise:

  1. Loop the band under your foot and hold the band with your hands.
  2. Moving only your ankle, point your foot forward (while keeping knees straight). You may feel tightness in your calf muscle behind your lower leg. Continue until you feel discomfort or can't move it any further.
  3. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
  4. Return to a neutral position.

Resisted Strengthening Inversion

Resisted Strengthening Inversion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This resistance exercise will provide strengthening as well. An inversion works on an inward motion. To do the exercise:

  1. Loop the exercise band under your foot and hold the ends with your hands.
  2. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot inward so the sole is facing your other leg. Continue until either you feel discomfort or you can no longer turn your foot inward.
  3. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
  4. Return to a neutral position.

Resisted Strengthening Eversion

Resisted Strengthening Eversion

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

A resisted eversion strengthens in the outward direction:

  1. Loop the exercise band under your foot and hold the ends with your hands.
  2. Moving only your ankle and keeping your toes pointed up, turn your foot outward, away from your other leg. Continue until either you feel discomfort or you can no longer turn your foot outward.
  3. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
  4. Return to a neutral position.

Partial Weight-Bearing Seated Calf Raises

Partial Weight-Bearing Seated Calf Raises

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

These partial weight-bearing exercises help put more weight on the injured ankle. In addition, they strengthen the muscles around it. You should perform each one 10 times in a row:

  1. Sit in a chair with the injured foot on the floor.
  2. Lift your heel as far as possible while keeping your toes on the floor.
  3. Return heel to the floor.

Partial Weight-Bearing Standing Weight Shift

Partial Weight-Bearing Standing Weight Shift

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Sometimes after an injury, your healthcare provider will have you limit the amount of weight you put on your affected leg. This can help protect your ankle it heals.

As you recover, your PT may guide you in increased weight bearing on your injured ankle. Weight shifts are the perfect exercise to do for this.

To do the exercise:

  1. Stand upright while holding onto a stable object.
  2. Shift some of your weight onto the injured foot.
  3. Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  4. Then, relax and put your weight back onto your uninjured foot.

Full Weight-Bearing Single Leg Stance

Full Weight-Bearing Single Leg Stance

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

These exercises will help put more weight on the injured foot. You should be sure that your ankle can tolerate the pressure before you put your full weight on it. Perform each one 10 times in a row:

  1. Stand on the injured foot while lifting the uninjured foot off the ground.
  2. Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  3. Relax and put your weight back onto your uninjured foot.

Check with your PT to be sure you are doing the right exercises for your ankle.

Full Weight-Bearing Standing Calf Raises

Full Weight-Bearing Standing Calf Raises

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Once you are cleared for full weight-bearing, you might want to try these calf raises:

  1. Stand on the injured foot while lifting the uninjured foot off the ground.
  2. Raise yourself, standing only on the ball of the injured foot and lifting your heel off the ground.
  3. Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax and put your weight back onto your uninjured foot.

Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Stepping

Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Stepping

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise involves stepping side to side. You can increase the speed of this exercise as your healing progresses:

  1. Place a rolled towel or short object on the ground to the side of your injured foot.
  2. Step over the towel with the injured foot and remain on that foot.
  3. Then bring the uninjured foot over the object and stand on both feet.
  4. Step back over the towel with the uninjured foot and remain on that foot.
  5. Then bring the injured foot back over the towel and stand on both feet.

Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Jump

Full Weight-Bearing Lateral Jump

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise starts to incorporate plyometrics (jump training) into your rehab routine. This can help you get back to running and sports.

Increase the speed of this exercise as your healing progresses:

  1. Place a rolled towel or short object on the ground to the side of your injured foot.
  2. Hop over the towel and land on the injured foot.
  3. Then hop back over the towel and land on the uninjured foot.

Single Leg Stance on a Towel

Balance: Single Leg Stance on a Towel

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Injury to the ankles can often impact your ability to balance. Towards the end of rehabilitation, performing balance activities is an important way to prevent future injury. Perform this exercise 10 times in a row:

  1. Fold a towel into a small rectangle and place it on the ground.
  2. Stand with the injured foot on the towel.
  3. Lift the uninjured leg off the ground. Stand only on the towel with the injured leg.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds. As your balance improves, increase that time up to 45 seconds.
  5. Return your uninjured foot to the floor.

You can increase the challenge by standing on more unsteady surfaces like a BOSU ("both sides up") or wobble board. Your PT may also have you use a BAPS board (Biomechanical Ankle Platform System) while working on balance exercises.

Summary

After an ankle injury, you may benefit from working with a physical therapist. They are specially trained to help you regain ankle motion and strength. In addition, your PT will likely prescribe exercises that can help you get back to your previous level of activity.

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shah S, Blanchette CM, Noone J, Wikstrom EA. Prevalence and burden of ankle injuries in North Carolina emergency departments. Value in Health. 2015;18(3):A250. doi:10.1016/j.jval.2015.03.1457

  2. Medina McKeon JM, Hoch MC. The ankle-joint complex: A kinesiologic approach to lateral ankle sprains. J Athl Train. 2019;54(6):589-602. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-472-17

  3. Hayman J, Prasad S, Stulberg D. Help patients prevent repeat ankle injury. J Fam Pract. 2010;59(1):32-4.