14 Stretching and Strengthening Ankle Exercises

woman completes stretching ankle exercises

A sprained ankle is painful. However, with proper rehabilitation that includes ankle exercises, you’ll be back on your feet and not missing a step.

After a sprain, try these stretching and strengthening exercises. Begin with the stretching exercises for 5-7 days and then progress to the strengthening exercises. As always, please contact Aboite Podiatry to get an appointment with one of our doctors if your pain persists or worsens.

Stretching Ankle Exercises

Ankle ABCs. Sit on a couch or comfortable chair. Extend your leg out and trace the letters of the alphabet in the air with your big toe. If you can do this pain-free, repeat this 2 or 3 times. This exercise promotes mobility in your ankle in all directions.

Knee Rocking. On a chair, sit with your foot flat on the floor. Then, keeping your foot on the floor, slowly move your knee from side to side for 2-3 minutes. This movement stretches and relaxes the ligaments around your ankle.

Standing Calf Stretch. Using a wall or a countertop for support, place your injured ankle about one step back and your good foot forward. Keeping your back heel flat on the floor, slowly bend the knee of your good leg until you feel a moderate stretch in the calf on your injured side. Repeat this three times, holding for 30 seconds.

Heel Raises. You can use a countertop, chair back, or wall for support. With your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly rise up on your toes and come back down. Do about 10 of these at first and work up to 20 or more. Remember, you only want a moderate stretch and no pain. When these become easy, you can switch to doing it only with the toes on your injured side.

Towel Scrunches. Sitting in a chair, place a small towel on the floor in front of you. With your shoes and socks off, gently grab the towel with your toes, scrunch it up, and count to five. Then release the towel and repeat. If you don’t experience pain, do this 8-10 times (less if pain exists).

Towel Stretch. Sit on the floor with your leg stretched out in front of you. Wrap a towel or strap around the ball of your foot. Gently pull back on the towel so your toes move toward you. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Be sure not to overdo it, as you only need to feel a mild to moderate stretch on your calf muscle.

One-Leg Balance. With your hands on a wall, countertop, or chair back, lift your good leg behind you so that your weight rests on the leg with the injured ankle. Try to hold this for 20 to 30 seconds. As you get stronger, try doing it only with the support of one or two fingers. When you’re stronger, do this without holding on.

Strengthening Exercises

So now that you’ve conquered the stretching exercises, can bear weight on your ankle, and your range of motion has improved, you can start strengthening your ankle. These ankle exercises require a resistance band that you can get from a sporting goods store or online.

Ankle Out. Tie your resistance band around a heavy object. Sit or stand and hook the inside of your foot into the end of the band. Slowly move your foot to the outside and back. Repeat ten times at first, working up to 20 repetitions.

Ankle In. With the resistance band tied around a heavy object, hook the inside of your foot into the band. Now slowly move your foot inward against the resistance band and bring it back. Repeat ten times, working up to 20 repetitions.

Elastic Band Push. Sit on the floor. Prop up your ankle with a rolled-up towel or swimming noodle to keep your heel off the floor. Place the elastic band around the ball of your foot and hold the two ends. Now slowly push your ankle forward like you’re pointing your toe. Then slowly bring it back. Repeat this ten times. Don’t use the band if there is any pain or if your ankle feels wobbly.

Elastic Band Pull. Tie your resistance band around a heavy object such as a desk or table leg. While sitting on the floor, hook your toes and upper foot into the band. Now, slowly pull your foot back towards you and return it to a vertical position. Repeat this ten times.

Basic Balance. Using a countertop or chair back for support if needed, stand on your injured foot, lift the other foot off the floor behind you, and try to maintain your balance. Try holding this for 8-10 seconds at first, working up to 30 seconds and one minute.

Once this gets easy, start doing it with your eyes closed. It will be much harder because you don’t have visual points of reference. Make sure to have something for support. Again, try to work up to 30 seconds and one minute.

Pillow Balance. Do the same basic balance exercise while standing on a pillow. You will notice that your foot will wobble around a lot, forcing you to correct your balance continually. See if you can get to 30 seconds to one minute. Stop if you begin to feel pain in your ankle.

Pillow Balance — Eyes Closed. This is the most challenging exercise. See how long you can hold your balance while standing on a pillow with your eyes closed. Be sure to have something available for support. Work up to 30 seconds to one minute if you can.