15 Safe Exercises For A Sprained Ankle And Precautions To Take

By Charushila Biswas, MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist

Strengthening and mobility exercises for a sprained ankle are helpful if you have gotten this injury more than once. Of course, you should first ice and wrap a crepe bandage around the sprained ankle to reduce the pain. Let the swelling and pain subside before you start doing strengthening exercises. Sports chiropractor Brett Edmunds says, “Exercises for ankle sprains help rehabilitate the joint by ensuring that th e muscles and ligaments surrounding the injury are appropriately strengthened and stretched again.” Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Slabaugh reiterates, “Exercises are typically started as soon as the swelling and pain in the ankle allow. The sooner exercises can be started, the better.”

You can start exercise therapy for minor ankle injuries after three days. For serious injuries, let the inflammation subside. Use the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) method and consult a doctor. Also, take your doctor’s permission before starting exercises for ankle rehabilitation. Once you are ready, do the following 15 safe ankle exercises to heal a sprain. Read on for advice from industry experts as well.

15 Safe Exercises For Sprained Ankle (With Pictures)

Ankle Warm-Up ABCs

Before exercising, sit on a chair and warm up the ankles for 3-5 minutes. Lift your affected leg off the floor and trace the letters A, B, and C with your foot. Do this slowly and in a controlled motion. Now, you are ready to do the following sprained ankle rehab exercises:

1. Therapy Band Ankle Flexion

How To Do

  •  Sit on a mat and place the affected foot on a foam roller or a rolled towel underneath your ankle.
  •  Anchor a therapy band with the ball of your foot.
  •  Hold the therapy band such that you get an adequate amount of resistance. Start with lower resistance.
  •  Point your toe forward and stretch it.
  •  Flex your foot towards you to stretch the calf muscle.
  •  Do this 10-15 times slowly and in a controlled motion.

2. Ankle Diagonal Flexion (PNF Movement)

How To Do

  •  Sit on the bed and extend the leg so that the affected ankle hangs at the edge. If you sit on a mat, use a rolled towel, exercise block, or foam roller to elevate your foot.
  •  Place your hands on the bed for support.
  •  Point your toe diagonally down. If it is the right ankle, point diagonally left and vice versa.
  •  Flex your foot diagonally up towards you.
  •  Repeat the movements 10-15 times.

3. Therapy Band Ankle Eversion

How To Do

  •  Sit on a mat, extend the legs, and place a foam roller or a rolled tower underneath your ankle.
  •  Tie a loop at the end of a therapy band.
  •  Put your affected leg through the loop and secure it around the ball of your foot.
  •  Anchor the other end of the therapy band around the other foot, as shown in the image. This is the starting position.
  •  Keep the resistance band fairly tight.
  •  Move the affected foot out to the side.
  •  Return to the starting position.
  •  Do this 10-15 times.

4. Therapy Band Ankle Inversion

How To Do

  •  Sit on a mat, extend the legs, and put a foam roller or a rolled tower underneath your ankle.
  •  Tie a loop at the end of a therapy band.
  •  Put your affected leg through the loop and secure the band around the ball of your foot.
  •  Place the affected foot over the other foot.
  •  Anchor the band to the curve of the other foot, as shown in the image. This is the starting position.
  •  Move your affected foot away from the other foot, and bring it back.
  •  Do this 10-15 times.

5. Ankle Circles

How To Do

  •  Sit on a mat and extend the legs.
  •  Place a rolled towel or a foam roller underneath the ankle.
  •  Rotate your foot clockwise and anti-clockwise.
  •  Do this 10 times.

6. Seated Ankle Mobility Exercise

How To Do

  •  Sit on a chair. Keep your spine straight and feet flat on the floor.
  •  You may hold the sides of the chair for support.
  •  Press your heels against the floor and lift your toes.
  •  Rotate both feet sideways and place them back on the floor.
  •  Lift them again, rotate inward, and place them back on the floor.
  •  Do this 10-15 times.

7. Towel Crunches

How To Do

  •  Spread a hand towel on the floor.
  •  Sit on a chair near the towel and place the affected foot on it.
  •  Keep the heel pressed to the floor.
  •  Curl your toe to scoop in the towel with the arch and pull it towards you.
  •  Smooth the towel and repeat 5-10 times.

8. Ankle Isometric Exercise

How To Do

  •  Sit on the bed and extend the affected leg so that the foot is at the edge.
  •  The therapist will place their hand on the sole and ask you to press your foot.
  •  Press your foot inward while the therapist pushes against the resistance to prevent your foot from pointing down.
  •  Hold this for 10-20 seconds.
  •  Press your foot outward while the therapist pushes against the resistance to prevent flexing.
  •  Hold this for 10-20 seconds.

9. Supported Heel And Toe Raises

How To Do

  •  Stand behind a chair or a table.
  •  Hold the backrest or the table’s edge. Keep the feet flat on the floor, spine straight, and look forward. This is the starting position.
  •  Press your heels against the floor and lift the toes off the floor.
  •  Place your toes back on the floor and lift your heels off the floor.
  •  Do this 10-15 times.

10. Seated Toe Taps

How To Do

  •  Sit on a chair with the spine straight, roll the shoulders back, and keep the feet flat on the floor.
  •  Press the right heel to the floor and lift the toe.
  •  Place it down. Repeat with the other foot.
  •  Alternate between right and left foot.
  •  Do this 15-20 times.

11. Sit To Stand

How To Do

  •  Sit on a chair, keep the spine straight, legs shoulder-width apart, feet flat on the floor, and roll the shoulders back.
  •  Extend your hands. This is the starting position.
  •  Press your feet against the floor, stand up and sit down.
  •  Do this 10-15 times.

12. Achilles Stretch

How To Do

  •  Stand facing a wall. Take two steps back and place both your hands on the wall.
  •  Place the affected foot behind the other one and extend it.
  •  Push the knee of the front leg towards the wall.
  •  Stretch the Achilles tendon without lifting the heel of the affected leg.
  •  Do this 10 times.

13. Squats

How To Do

  •  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the backrest of a chair for support.
  •  Push your hips back, flex your knees, and lower your body into a sitting position. Hold for a few seconds and get up.
  •  The knees should not overshoot the toes. Keep your heels pressed to the floor.
  •  Do this 5 times.
  •  Place the other foot behind the affected foot and squat.
  •  Do this 5 times.

14. Tandem Stance

How To Do

  •  Hold the backrest of a chair or the table’s edge for support. Keep the legs hip-width apart, and feet flat on the floor.
  •  Place your right foot in front of the left.
  •  Hold this tandem stance for 10 counts.
  •  If you are comfortable, take your hands off the backrest or the table.
  •  You may also close your eyes.
  •  Switch legs and repeat.
  •  Repeat this 5 times.

15. Single Leg Balance

How To Do

  •  Hold a table for support, keep the legs hip-width apart, and feet flat on the floor, and place the other hand on your waist.
  •  Lift the unaffected leg off the floor.
  •  Hold for 5-10 counts.

Note: Do not do this if the ankle bone hurts.

You can do these 15 ankle strengthening exercises if your doctor permits. It is best to listen to your body before exercising. So, how do you understand when the right time is? Let’s hear it from the experts below.

When To Start Exercising

The doctor will let you know after examining the extent of the injury. Licensed chiropractor Dr. Veera Gupta says, “It just depends on the extent of how badly you injured your ankle as to when rehab begins. For example, a grade three sprain of a ligament is a full tear, and that will take a different amount of time versus a grade one, which is just a partial tear. The name of the game is to get the swelling down first.”

In other words, you need to give your foot complete rest before your start ankle rehabilitation exercise. Does that mean you should refrain from walking? What are the experts saying?

Can I Walk If I Have A Sprained Ankle?

No, not until the pain subsides. Walking may seem to be a low-impact exercise and harmless. However, it can worsen the inflammation if you start walking before the ankle recovers from the injury.

“If the ankle is a grade 1 sprain, walking is typically started right away; grade 2 usually takes within 3-5 days, and grade 3 ankle sprains can be more prolonged, depending on the severity of the swelling,” confirms board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Slabaugh.

Stephanie Niño, PT, DPT, says, “Depending on the severity of the ankle sprain, patients are typically advised to avoid strenuous activity during the treatment and recovery period, as there is a high occurrence of re-injury or the development of chronic problems.” She advises avoiding walking if you are unable to bear the body weight. Sports chiropractor Brett Edmunds urges, “Use crutches when you need to walk on your sprained ankle and wear ankle braces.”

Apart from letting the swelling or inflammation go down, you must take a few safety precautions to prevent falls and further aggravating the injury. Scroll down to get expert insights.

Safety Precautions To Take

Stephanie Niño, PT, DPT, says, “Some people are predisposed to ankle sprains and strains. For example, people with a hindfoot varus in which the general nature or posture of the heels is slightly turned toward the inside, it is easier to roll or twist the ankle. In addition, people who have had a severe sprain in the past or have weak ankle or foot muscles may be predisposed to sprains.” She recommends taking the following precautions:

  •  Don’t Forget To Stretch: The Achilles tendon and calf muscles support the ankles. Stretching these muscles can improve your ankle mobility, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretch them at least once a day to prevent stiffness.
  •  Increase Your Strength: Most of us tend to focus on strengthing our upper body and legs. However, it is equally important to strengthen the ankle joints and the surrounding muscles. Exercises like foot rolls, standing heel raises, squat jumps, and soleus presses can help strengthen the ankle muscles.
  •  Get Your Balance: Good balance is crucial for keeping the ankles pain-free. Improving your balance reduces the chances of accidental falls and enhances muscle memory to keep you upright and stable.

Exercises for a sprained ankle help rehabilitate this joint. However, you must not do the exercises listed above immediately after spraining your ankle. Instead, wait for the swelling to subside and get a go-ahead from the doctor for rehabilitation. Moreover, do not walk until the pain reduces. Otherwise, you may worsen your injury. The waiting period before the exercise differs depending on the extent of the injury, so consult a doctor immediately for an examination. When you are cleared for the exercises that help strengthen the ankle and foot muscles, ligaments, and tendons, do not do them without warming up first. Ideally, you will be able to walk without pain within 4-6 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you massage a sprained ankle?

Massaging a sprained ankle may provide you some relief. But it is always better to consult a doctor before doing it.

Should I wrap a sprained ankle at night?

No. You may wrap or bandage your ankle in the morning to relieve swelling and take it off at night.

Key Takeaways

  • Ankle warm-up ABCS, ankle diagonal flexion (PNF movement), therapy band ankle eversion, and therapy band ankle inversion are safe exercises for sprained ankles.
  • Avoid doing single-leg balance if your ankle bone hurts.
  • Increase your strength, get your balance, and don’t forget to stretch if you have sprained your ankle.

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Charushila is an ISSA certified Fitness Nutritionist and a Physical Exercise Therapist. Over a span of 5 years, she has... more