Foot and Ankle Exercises for Injury Recovery

9 Simple Ways to Restore Flexibility and Strength

After a foot or ankle injury, an exercise program will help you return to daily activities and restore the strength and flexibility you enjoyed before the accident. Following a well-structured conditioning program is critical to ensuring that your foot or ankle heals completely and reinjury does not occur.

To ensure that the rehabilitation program is safe and effective, it is best to do so under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. This is especially true if you have undergone foot or ankle surgery.

Aims of the Routine

The following set of exercises should be performed three times per day. They mainly function to stretch your tendons and ligaments to improve the range of motion of the affected joints.

Before starting the routine, warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of low-impact activity, like walking or riding a stationary bicycle. As you get stronger, you can move from these stretch exercises to active strength training. If you are not sure how to do an exercise, contact your doctor or physical therapist. Stop if you feel any pain.

1

Ankle Pump Up

Ankle Pump Up

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise helps increase ankle dorsiflexion (upward movement of the foot) and strengthens the muscles in the front of your lower leg (shin). You can do this exercise seated or by standing and holding onto a wall or counter.

To begin, point your toes upward like you are trying to touch your toes to the front of your shin. Hold this position for 10 seconds, maintaining constant tension, and release. Start with three sets of 10 exercises, and work your way up to three sets of 30 exercises.

2

Ankle Pump Down

Ankle Pump Down

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise helps increase ankle plantarflexion (downward movement of the foot) and strengthens the muscles in the back of your lower leg (calf). This includes the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that taper at the base of the calf and merge with the Achilles tendon. You can do this exercise seated or by standing and holding onto a wall or counter.

For this exercise, point your foot and toes downward as far as you can go. You should feel your calf muscles flexing at the back of your leg. Hold this position for 10 seconds and release. Start with three sets of 10 exercises, and work your way to doing three sets of 30 exercises.

3

Bent Knee Wall Stretch

Bent Knee Wall Stretch

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise mainly stretches the soleus muscle on the inside of the calf. To begin, line yourself up squarely in front of a wall and press your hands against the wall for balance. Place one foot behind you and the other just front.

Keeping your knees slightly bent and both heels solidly on the floor, press your hips forward until you feel a stretch along the back of your calf. Hold for 30 seconds, maintaining the tension, and release.

Start with three sets of 10 exercises for each leg, working your way up to three sets of 30 exercises.

4

Straight Knee Wall Stretch

Straight Knee Wall Stretch

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise (sometimes referred to as the runner's stretch) helps to stretch the entire gastrocnemius-soleus muscle complex.

To begin, lining yourself up squarely in front of a wall, press your hands against the wall for balance. Place one foot behind you and the other just in front. Keeping both heels flat on the floor, press your hips forward until you feel a solid stretch along the entire calf. Hold for 30 seconds and release.

Start with three sets of 10 exercises for each leg, working your way up to three sets of 30 exercises.

5

Toe Pick Ups

Toe Pick Ups

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise helps to strengthen your toes and improve their flexibility. The movement of the toes is directed by a complex set of muscles (primarily the flexor digitorum brevis and extensor digitorum brevis muscles) that are easily impaired with a foot or ankle injury.

To begin, place a pile of 20 small objects on the floor (like jacks, hard candies, or tiny stones) and use your toes to pick them up and move them to another pile. Do three sets of this exercise three times per day.

6

Toe Raises

Toe Rise

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise helps to strengthen your toes and calf muscles. Holding a wall or counter for balance, and rise up onto your tiptoes as far as you can go without pain. Hold the position for 10 seconds, maintaining the tension, and release.

Start with three sets of 10 exercises, and work your way up to three sets of 30 exercises. As you get stronger, you can begin to do single leg toe raises, which places additional weight on each leg.

7

Plantar Fascia Massage

Plantar Fascia Massage

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This exercise directly massages the plantar fascia (the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes). This is an ideal treatment for plantar fasciitis, a common chronic condition caused by inflammation of the fibrous tissue.

To begin, sit comfortably in a chair and cross one leg over the opposite knee. With one hand, pull your toes back until the foot is fully dorsiflexed. There should be tension but no pain. With the other hand, massage the bottom of your foot immediately in front of the heel. Do this for 10 minutes three times per day.

8

Towel Calf Stretch

Towel Stretch

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This assisted exercise helps to increase ankle dorsiflexion and stretch the calf muscles safely and effectively. To begin, sit comfortably on the floor and keep your knees straight.

If you have trouble sitting upright on the floor, you can either sit with your back against the wall for support or place a cushion beneath your buttocks to elevate the hips.

Looping a towel around your foot, pull the back until you start to feel a concerted stretch in your calf muscle. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Start with three sets of 10 exercises for each leg, and work your way up to three sets of 30 exercises.

Some people will do this exercise with both legs at once, but this tends to cause the foot and ankle to supinate (splay outward) and may end up exacerbating an ankle injury.

9

Ice Bottle Massage

Ice Bottle Massage

Terence Vanderheiden, DPM

This is a great exercise for cooling down (literally). You would need to prepare by filling a plastic bottle (like a disposable 32-ounce sports drink bottle) with water and freezing it overnight.

To round out your exercise routine, place the frozen water bottle on the floor and roll your foot over it for five minutes three times per day. Always keep your foot moving; don't stop and let the bottle rest on one spot.

If the cold causes discomfort, you can place a kitchen towel between the bottle and your foot. If there is pain or a prickly sensation, stop and avoid this exercise. This is especially true for people with diabetic neuropathy.

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