Ankle Exercises and Physical Therapy for Ankle Injuries

The ankle joint is one of your major weight-bearing joints. Its function and structure make it vulnerable to injury, especially during activities like jumping and running.

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. This means the ankle becomes weaker and prone to being injured again.

You can help lower your risk of reinjury by strengthening and stretching your ankle after an injury. Working with a physical therapist (PT) may be the best way to help you regain normal use of your ankle. Your PT can help you choose the best ankle exercises for your condition. They can also guide you in your rehab and help you gain ankle mobility and strength.

This article provides a selection of ankle exercises that can help your ankle recover after injury.

Non-Weight Bearing Dorsiflexion

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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. Repeat five times.

Non-Weight Bearing Plantar Flexion

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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.

Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider or PT before beginning any exercise program.

Non-Weight Bearing Inversion

Non-Weight Bearing Inversion

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Inversion is 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

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Eversion is the motion of moving your ankle to the outside 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. Use the big toe as your "pencil."

It can be tough to recover from ankle injuries. That's why your ankle rehabilitation 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. You can increase repetitions as you get stronger.

Eversion Isometrics

Eversion Isometrics

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Strengthening exercises are usually started with isometric contractions. That means your ankle joint doesn't move while you're flexing the muscles.

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. This will make your muscles contract. Your ankle joint should not move.
  3. Hold this position for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax for 10 seconds.

Inversion Isometrics

Inversion Isometrics

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This 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. This will make your muscles contract. Your ankle joint should not move.
  3. Hold this for 15 seconds.
  4. Relax for 10 seconds.

Recap

An isometric exercise helps you strengthen your muscles without putting strain on your injured joint.

Resisted Strengthening Dorsiflexion

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You should perform resisted strengthening exercises with a thick, elastic band called 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 your 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. Repeat.

Resisted Strengthening Plantar Flexion

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Resisted ankle plantar flexion helps strengthen your calf muscles and Achilles tendon, the big tendon in the back of your ankle. It also uses a Theraband 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 your 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

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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

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.

Recap

Resistance exercises can help you develop strength in the muscles around your ankle.

Partial Weight-Bearing Seated Calf Raises

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These partial weight-bearing exercises help put more weight on the injured ankle. They also 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 your heel to the floor.

Partial Weight-Bearing Standing Weight Shift

Partial Weight-Bearing Standing Weight Shift

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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 as it heals.

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

Recap

Partial weight-bearing exercises help you ease into putting weight on your injured ankle. They also help you continue to build strength in the muscles around your ankle.

Full Weight-Bearing Single Leg Stance

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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

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

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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

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This exercise starts to incorporate jump training, called plyometrics, 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.

Recap

Make sure your ankle can support your full weight before you add full-weight bearing exercises to your routine. 

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. Balance activities can help prevent future injury. Do these towards the end of your rehabilitation.

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 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. A PT is specially trained to help you regain ankle motion and strength.

As you recover, you can progress from doing non-weight-bearing exercises and strengthening exercises to partial weight-bearing exercises. As you gain strength, you'll be able to move on to full weight-bearing and balance exercises. With the guidance of your PT, these exercises can help you get back to your previous level of activity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you start doing ankle exercises after a sprain?

    You should usually start doing strengthening and range-of-motion exercises within 48 to 72 hours. Check with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before you start.

  • Does walking help to strengthen your ankles after a sprain?

    It depends on the extent of the injury. Check with your healthcare provider to find out when you can put weight on your ankle. You may need crutches to walk during the first few days or weeks after the injury.

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5 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.
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