A Physical Therapist Shares the Best Exercises to Bounce Back After a Sprained Ankle

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HAVE YOU EVER jumped, then landed on your foot the wrong way, twisting your ankle? Or stopped short on wet grass during a soccer game and rolled your ankle, causing instant pain on the outside of your foot?

If so, you’re not alone. Ankle sprains are the most common kind of sprain, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s not surprising, either, because your ankle joint plays a critical role in nearly all everyday movements that get you from place to place. Your ankle allows your feet to make a range of movements, and it’s involved in everything from propelling you forward when you walk or run to decelerating you when you want to stop.

When you have an ankle sprain, much of that movement can be painful. Ankle sprains take time to recover from, but you can help jumpstart that process with the help of Andrew Wang, PT, DPT, at Bespoke Treatments, who shared the best exercises to do after an ankle sprain.

What Does Your Ankle Do?

The ankle connects your foot to the rest of your leg. It’s a complicated joint— multiple bones of your foot are connected to the bones of your shin by several muscles and tendons. The ankle is built to handle nearly all of your body weight, but that does mean injuring it can limit a wide array of day-to-day movements. Since it’s a key player in vital movements like walking, it’s definitely a pain (literally and figuratively) when injured.

What is a Sprain?

A sprain happens when a joint is stretched too far, causing ligaments and tendons to stretch, or even tear, with it. The stretching and tearing of these tissues can cause inflammation and instability of the joint.

A slip off a step or a quick stop on slippery grass can cause the ankle to rotate either too far inward or too far outward. Either direction can cause an ankle sprain. Since the ankle is responsible for so much, it’s important to rehab the injury well to get you back to normal as soon as possible.

Here are a few exercises to help mobilize and strengthen the joint after injury. If you sprained your ankle a few hours ago, don’t jump straight into these. Head to a doctor or physical therapist first. But, if you sprained your ankle a few days or weeks ago and it’s still not feeling 100 percent, give these exercises a try.

4 Best Exercises to Incorporate After a Sprained Ankle

Calf Foam Roller

Everyone’s favorite piece of recovery equipment: the foam roller. This tool is great for loosening up your muscles, and you can likely find one in your gym. In the case of a sprained ankle, it’s great for loosening up your calf, which has likely taken some heat from the injury.

How To Do It:

  • Take a seat with your hands behind you, and the injured calf up on the foam roller.
  • Cross the opposite ankle over the injured ankle.
  • Lift up the hips, and shift your weight so that your calf travels up and down the foam roller. Keep the movement controlled.
  • You can also shift your hips so the foot faces inward to be able to target the inner portion of the calf.
  • Do this for 1 to 2 minutes a day. Wang recommends doing it a few times per day if you’re feeling especially stiff.

Ankle Mobilization

After a sprain, the ankle joint can lock up, says Wang. By adding in mobility work to your day, you can improve its range of motion to get back to normal.

How To Do It:

  • Start in a half kneeling stance, with the injured ankle in front.
  • Place both hands on the front knee, and slowly shift your weight forward.
  • Keep the knee directly on top of the middle of the foot.
  • Shift your weight back and forth. Make sure you don’t push past the point of pain, but still feel a comfortable stretch.
  • Do 10 to 20 reps, 3 times per day.

Eccentric Heel Raise

After an ankle injury, you’re probably feeling pretty weak. It’s important to retrain the calf muscles so your ankle can be properly supported again.

How To Do It:

  • Put the balls of your feet onto a step, hanging the heels on off the edge. You can hold onto a railing or someone’s hand to balance.
  • Raise up onto your toes on both feet. Once there, shift all your weight onto your injured ankle. Lift the other foot off of the step.
  • Slowly lower the heel down on just the injured foot. Place the other foot back on the step to rise up for the next rep.
  • Aim for 10 to 12 reps, 3 times per day.

Single Leg Balance

Your ligaments will definitely need some extra attention after a sprain. They play a massive role in balance and stability, and after they’re injured, they need a little retraining. This exercise is important for teaching ligaments how to stabilize again— especially so you don’t have another sprain later on.

How To Do It:

  • Stand on your injured ankle, and lift the other leg to hip height.
  • Try to balance for 30 seconds.
  • If you’ve mastered this, challenge yourself by closing your eyes.
  • Do this once a day.
Headshot of Cori Ritchey

Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.

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