Rehabilitating a bad ankle sprain is crucial to return to your sport or normal level of activity. There are too many cases where the injured person does nothing about this injury, thinking time will be all that is needed to heal and repair. WRONG! The earlier you act, the more favourable will be the outcome of an ankle sprain.

This article provides a list of exercises in increasing level of difficulty. These will challenge an ankle sprain appropriately and at the right pace to stimulate proper healing of the involved structures. Before attempting these exercises, ensure you have consulted with your health professional to determine whether they are in fact appropriate for your particular injury. Furthermore, it is suggested that you read this article on ankle sprains, prior to attempting these exercises.

Test First

The first thing you will notice after spraining your ankle, will be restricted movement. Movements in most directions will be painful or restricted initially. After the swelling reduces the most noticeable movement reduction will be in ankle dorsiflexion.

Dorsiflexion is a movement created about the ankle joint that brings the foot and toes upward towards the knee.

Plantarflexion is the opposite and points the foot and toes away from the knee.

A good test to use to measure the progress of your ankle rehabilitation, is the knee-to-wall test.

To do this test, with your good ankle, place your foot about 10cms away from a wall. Keeping your heel on the ground, lunge forward until your knee touches the wall. Continue to increase the distance from the wall until you find the maximum distance you can still touch the wall with your knee whilst keeping the heel on the ground. This will be the goal distance for your injured ankle.

Try this test with the injured ankle. You may find you have to start at 5cms from the wall depending on how severe your injury is. It will most likely feel painful, uncomfortable, tight or restricted when attempting this test. Perform this test before and after doing the following exercises to gauge your progress.

Ankle Exercises Phase 1

1. R.I.C.E protocol
Rest, ice,compression and elevation

2. Alphabet writing

Write the alphabet with your ankle. This exercise serves to get the ankle moving in different directions. The movement will encourage swelling out of the ankle area and start getting your ankle used to moving again. You can do this sitting down with your leg supported on a small stool.

3. Calf stretches

Since you will not be able to move your ankle as much as before, the muscles are likely to become tight from lack of use. Stretch your calves regularly but gently. This is hugely important, as you will not be moving them anywhere near the same degree as prior to your injury. It is vital that you keep your calves as flexible as possible. In this way these structures are less likely to injure when you return to normal activity.

4. Ligament stretching

The anterior talofibular ligament is the most commonly injured ligament in ankle sprains. Performing the movement depicted below will stimulate favourable healing within this structure, despite the discomfort you may feel from doing it.

As you grow used to this stretch, you can increase the amount of force by performing the second stretch. In this stretch, use your hand to pull the ankle towards you until you find the balance between pain and pleasure through the injured ankle.

Towel exercise: place a towel around the base of your forefoot (like a stirrup), and hold each end of the towel with your hands. Pull with your hands on the towel to bring your foot up towards your chin whilst keeping the knee straight (dorsiflexion). This movement serves to increase range of motion in this direction and simultaneously encourage the movement of swelling out of the ankle.

5. Toe Raises

Stand with your heel over the edge of a step. Raise up on the ball of your foot, hold for 3 seconds and slowly lower your heel to the start position, or allow the heel to drop below the level of the step depending on your pain/movement tolerance. Aim for ten repetitions.

6. Heel and Toe Walking

Walk on your toes for 30 seconds. Switch and walk on your heels for 30 seconds. Build up to one minute on toes and heel alternate for 5 to 10 minutes.

Ankle Exercises Phase 2

7. Lateral Step Up and Down

Step up to a step of bench, sideways and then step down sideways. This exercise challenges the lateral stability of the ankle during motion. Care must be taken not to do this too fast as stepping down from the box sideways may put you at risk of re-rolling the ankle. Aim for ten repetitions.

8. Single Leg Hops

Hop forward and concentrate on landing on the injured leg so that there is little movement about the ankle joint. This exercise teaches the muscles that control the ankle joint to stabilise the joint during dynamic movements. Aim for ten hops, try them forwards and backwards for variation.

9. Single Leg Spot Jumps

Hop from spot to spot on floor. You can draw an imaginary square on the floor and hop from one corner to another. The sides of the imaginary square might be anywhere from 50-100cm long. Try hopping in different directions and hopping diagonally as well. Keep this going for about twenty seconds before taking a rest. Try doing three sets.

11. Balance Board with Half-squats

While balancing on a wobble board, perform ten slow, controlled half-squats. The balance board provides an unstable surface on which to exercise. The unstable surface stimulates the muscles to support the ankle complex (keeping it balanced and stationary) whilst performing the particular movements/exercise.

12. Step up onto Balance Board

Place a balance board (or soft pillow or foam pad) 20-30cm higher than your starting point. Step up ten times.

13. Step down onto Balance Board

Place a balance board (or soft pillow or foam pad) 20-30cm lower than your starting point. Step down ten times.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.