12 Ankle Sprain Exercises | Physio-Approved To Ensure Recovery

Written by on March 23, 2022 — Medically reviewed by Mich Torres (PT)

Did you know that sprains account for 68% of all ankle injuries? (1) And, as most of them are mild, there’s a good chance you can heal it yourself with these ankle sprain exercises.

These are physical therapy movements we -physios- use in the clinic to boost your healing and get you quickly on your feet. Just make sure it’s safe for you to them – little to no pain is a good indicator.

As a heads up, I grouped the exercises by what you need to work on to have a full recovery. I recommend starting at level 1 of each section to build a foundation, and slowly progress from there.

Here’s what you need to fully heal your ankle sprain. Tap on any of these bullets to check the exercises:

Remember to do each movement slowly while keeping proper form. Have fun! 

Range of motion exercises for your injured ankle

Joint stiffness and decreased range of motion are common after an acute ankle sprain. Working your way through these exercises daily will help recover your ankle mobility.

But first: Did you JUST sprain your ankle? Here’s what to do

Level 1: Ankle circles

Someone sitting on a chair doing ankle circles

Item/s that you need: Rolled towel.

  • Start by sitting on the floor with your affected leg straight.
  • Place a rolled towel underneath your Achilles tendon.
  • Slowly turn your foot in a clockwise direction.
  • Each movement should come from the ankle joint, not your whole leg.
  • Each turn of your foot counts as 1. Do this exercise for 10 repetitions.
  • Afterward, circle your foot in a counterclockwise direction with the same number of reps.

Level 2: Ankle alphabets

Someone sitting on a chair  doing ankle alphabet

Item/s that you need: Rolled towel.

  • This exercise starts with the same position as ankle circles.
  • Now, using your injured foot, slowly spell out the alphabet.
  • You can begin by doing it in all caps, then in small letters.
  • Each set of alphabet counts as 1. Do this exercise for 10 repetitions.

Level 3: Modified knee circles

Someone standing between two chairs mobilizing their ankles

Item/s that you need: Two chairs or walking sticks.

  • Start in a standing position, with your injured foot in front of you.
  • Keep your foot flat on the floor and hold on to a wall to keep you stable.
  • Lean forward and gently turn the knee of your affected leg in a clockwise direction.
  • Each turn counts as 1. Do this exercise for 10 repetitions.
  • With the same number of reps, go over the opposite direction, in a counter-clockwise manner.

Exercises for ankle flexibility

A supple ankle allows you to adapt better on any surface. This in turn can reduce your risk of reinjury. So, once your injured ankle allows it, improve the flexibility of your calf muscles.

Level 1: Calf self-myofascial release

Someone performing a calf miofascial release with a tennis ball

Item/s that you need: Tennis/Lacrosse ball or a foam roller.

  • Sit on the floor with the knee of your injured leg straight.
  • Place the tennis ball under your calf muscles.
  • Slowly roll your calf over the tennis ball, looking for any tender spots around your muscles.
  • Once you find them, keep the ball in that spot for 1 minute, or until the pain lessens.

If you need more pressure, you can use your hands to raise your hips or cross your other leg over your shin bone.

Level 2: Towel stretch

Woman stretching her calves with an elastic band

Item/s that you need: A towel or belt.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  • Use the middle part of a towel and wrap it under the ball of your injured foot.
  • Hold on to both ends of the towel and slowly pull it towards you.
  • You should be feeling some stretch at the back of your lower leg and Achilles tendon.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, 3 repetitions.

Level 3: Standing calf stretch

Woman standing in front of a wall stretching her calves

Item/s that you need: Wall or a chair.

  • Place your hands on a wall or a sturdy chair in front of you.
  • Take your good foot forward, bending that knee a little.
  • Then, take a step backward with your injured leg.
  • Press the injured foot flat on the floor. This will cause some tension in your calf muscle.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, 3 repetitions.

Strengthening exercises for ankle sprains

Strong ankle and foot muscles give you better support, lessens the chance of another ankle sprain, and minimizes the risk of developing chronic ankle instability (CAI). (2)

CAI is the feeling of unsteadiness or “giving way” due to an ankle injury that didn’t heal properly. It’s also one of the reasons why most people still complain of ankle pain even after a year from their injury. (3)

Level 1: Toe towel curls

Man sitting on a chair with a towel under his foot exersicing his toes

Item/s that you need: Towel.

  • Sit down on a chair with a towel flat under the ball of your foot.
  • Using your toes, grab on the towel and pull it towards you.
  • Straighten the towel once most of it is under your foot.
  • Perform for 10 repetitions

To make it harder, place something lightweight on the end of the towel – cans of beans, bags of flour, books, light dumbbells…

Level 2: Plantarflexion with resistance band

Men sitting on the floor with one leg extended and an elastic band looped on that foot, pushing it to work his calfs

Item/s that you need: A resistance/exercise band.

  • Sit on the floor with your knees straight.
  • Place a rolled towel underneath the heel of your affected foot.
  • Loop the middle of your resistance band under your injured foot and hold onto both ends.
  • Gently push against the band by pointing your toes away from you.
  • Slowly go back to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times.

Pro-tip: The color of the exercise band reflects the amount of tension it has. Usually, the darker the color, the stronger the resistance.

Level 3: Heel raises

Woman standing behind a chair pushing herself off the floor with her toes

Item/s that you need: A chair.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and a foot distance from a chair.
  • Hold onto a chair for support if necessary.
  • Slowly, lift your heels from the ground.
  • Make sure to put equal pressure on both of your toes.
  • Once you reach the top, come back down to the starting position.
  • Perform for 10 repetitions.

To make it harder, wear a backpack with things inside. Doing the exercise on one leg is also effective.

Stability and balance exercises for ankle sprains

Another great way to reduce the chance of recurrent ankle sprains and CAI is by developing your proprioception. (4)

Proprioception is the ability to recognize your body and joint position subconsciously. Improving this allows you to adjust your ankle position without thinking, which is crucial to avoid reinjuring your ankle.

And, the best part is that it’s extremely easy to do, just follow this progression:

Level 1: Short foot exercise

Increase the arch by bringing the ball of your foot closer to your heel

Item/s that you need: A chair.

  • Sit on a chair, barefoot.
  • With your injured foot flat on the ground, increase its arch by bringing the ball of your foot closer to your heel.
  • To do this, try to do a towel curl with your arch instead of your toes.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, repeat 6 times.
  • Avoid lifting or pressing your toes onto the floor.

This one can be very challenging, more so if the joints in your foot aren’t flexible. It may be weird at first too, you may feel the urge to lift or squeeze your toes.

If that’s you, don’t worry. Try this first to increase the awareness of your arch movement:

  • Spread your toes and press them to flat onto the floor.
  • You’ll inevitably increase your arch a little.
  • Pay attention to that sensation and try to replicate it without pressing the toes.

Level 2: Single leg balance

Stand on your injured foot and balance yourself using a chair for stability

Item/s that you need: A chair.

  • Stand on a flat surface with a chair a few inches away in front of you.
  • Bend the knee of your uninjured leg.
  • Keep your other leg straight and look forward as you try to balance yourself.
  • Maintain this position for 30 seconds and repeat thrice.

To make it more challenging, close your eyes while maintaining your balance.

Level 3: Walking tandem stance

Walk on a straight line with a tandem stance

Item/s that you need: A tape measure.

  • Stretch out the tape measure on the floor in front of you.
  • Stand on one end of the tape with your chest out and both arms at your side.
  • Step on the tape with one foot.
  • Take another step, placing the heel close to the toes of the foot behind.
  • Look straight ahead while you walk that way to the other end of the tape.
  • That counts as 1 attempt. Repeat 10 times.

FAQs:

Is it OK to exercise on a sprained ankle?

Yes, as long as there’s minimal pain whenever you move your foot.

Is walking bad for a sprained ankle?

This is generally safe. Just make sure your ankle pain and swelling have calmed down before putting your full weight on your foot.

Further reading: When it’s not ok to walk on an ankle sprain?

What is the fastest way to heal a sprained ankle?

Resting from strenuous activity and doing ankle exercises.

This will help: 8 ways to heal a sprain fast

Conclusion: Ankle sprain rehab exercises

Although ankle sprains are common, a well-rounded treatment helps you recover quickly.

If you’re still noticing any pain, weakness, or limp even after a series of exercises, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor or physical therapist.

Further reading: Why do you still have pain after a sprained ankle?

Resources

  1. Delahunt, Eamonn. “The sporting ankle: lateral ankle sprain, the most commonly incurred lower limb musculoskeletal injury”. A Comprehensive Guide to Sports Physiology and Injury Management. 2020, Pages 261-270. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-7020-7489-9.00021-1
  2. Bleakley, Chris M et al. “Rehabilitation Exercises Reduce Reinjury Post Ankle Sprain, But the Content and Parameters of an Optimal Exercise Program Have Yet to Be Established: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation vol. 100,7 (2019): 1367-1375. DOI: 10.1016/j.apmr.2018.10.005
  3. van Rijn, Rogier M et al. “What is the clinical course of acute ankle sprains? A systematic literature review.” The American journal of medicine vol. 121,4 (2008): 324-331.e6. DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2007.11.018
  4. Willems, Tine et al. “Proprioception and Muscle Strength in Subjects With a History of Ankle Sprains and Chronic Instability.” Journal of athletic training vol. 37,4 (2002): 487-493. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164382/

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