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8 ankle sprain exercises

Male and female sat on the grass in the park performing leg stretches
Ankle sprains can be uncomfortable and painful. Luckily, you'll learn all about ankle sprains and find 8 great exercises to help your ankle heal in our article.

Sprained ankles are uncomfortable and often mean you need to be off your feet for a while. While time is a great way for your ankle to heal, strengthening the muscles around it can allow it to recover properly and prevent further sprains.

Introducing some gentle exercises will help bring some strength back to your ankle muscles. Still, it is important to start slowly and gently, making sure you listen to your body and stop if you experience discomfort. You should ensure a medical professional has approved that it is safe to start exercising too.

We’ve got all you need to know about ankle sprains, from what they are to what causes them, and eight ankle sprain exercises you can do from the comfort of your home.

In this article: What is a sprained ankle? | How to heal a sprained ankle | 8 ankle sprain exercises | Can you do cardio with a sprained ankle? | Can you walk on a sprained ankle? | How do you prevent strains and sprains? | The final say

What is a sprained ankle?


Three ligaments (these connect two bones together, like ropes) keep your ankle bone in place.1 A sprained ankle occurs when one of those ligaments stretches too far or is torn completely. You can also strain your ankle, which is different to a sprain. If you’re wondering whether a strain or a sprain causes your ankle pain, check with your doctor.

You can also read our article on the difference between strains and sprains to learn more.

Medically, your sprained ankle will be graded on how bad it is. These grades include:2

  • Grade 1: Mild

Your ligaments have been stretched but not torn. As a result, you may feel some pain and stiffness, yet your ankle should still be stable.

  • Grade 2: Moderate

One or more ligaments are partially torn. You may be in some pain, and there will be mild swelling. Your joint won’t be completely stable, and you won’t be able to move it as much as usual.

  • Grade 3: Severe

One or more of your ligaments is torn completely, and your ankle is unstable. As a result, you’ll likely have a lot of pain and probably won’t be able to move it.

How to heal a sprained ankle

How to heal a sprained ankle

When you sprain your ankle, the NHS suggests following the 4 steps of RICE therapy to ease swelling and support your injury.3

RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You should also avoid heat, like hot baths, for the first few days to help reduce any swelling. Once you can move your ankle without pain making you stop, you should try to keep your ankle moving so it doesn’t become stiff.4

It can take two weeks for your sprain or strain to feel better, but you should avoid intense activity and exercise for up to eight weeks as it may do more harm than good. If your strain or sprain is severe, it can take a few months to feel better.3

Four steps of RICE therapy


  1. Rest: stop any form of exercise or activities, and try not to put any weight on the injured ankle.
  2. Ice: use an ice pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel) on the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Compression: wrap the injury in a bandage to help support it.
  4. Elevation: keep the injured ankle raised on a pillow or cushion as much as possible.

8 exercises for ankle sprains


The NHS recommends some exercises you can do as part of your at-home rehabilitation for a sprained ankle.5

Here are eight exercises that may help – it’s recommended that you do them three or four times a day.5

Ankle pumps

This simple movement will help stretch your ankle ligaments and allow the muscle to build around the damaged area. Point your foot up, then down and repeat ten times.

 

Ankle circles

Moving your ankle in a circular motion helps stretch out your muscles in different directions and improves circulation to your feet. Start by rotating your ankle in a circle and repeat in the opposite direction. Try to do this up to 10 times in each direction but remember to stop if it causes discomfort.

 

Heel raises

Exercises like heel raises look at stretching the whole foot, including the heel and ankle ligaments and up to your calf muscles. You can do them seated or standing.

Start by sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the floor or standing behind a chair to use the back for support. Next, raise your heel slowly off the floor, and then slowly bring it back down. Repeat up to 10 times for each ankle.

 

Heel dips

You can try heel dips for an added stretch when your ankle feels much better. Heel dips require standing on a small step with both heels over the edge. Hold on to something for support, then let your body weight stretch your heels towards the floor.

Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly rise up onto your toes and stay in place for a further few seconds. Repeat this move a few times to work your ankle and leg muscles.

 

Deep calf stretch

Calf stretches work more of your leg muscles, resulting in a pretty deep leg stretch.

For a deep calf stretch, stand with one foot in front of the other while holding onto a support, like the back of a chair. Keep your feet facing forward and bend both knees, letting your bodyweight stretch your calf without lifting your heel off the floor.

You should feel a nice stretch down the back of your leg. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, and then relax. Repeat this a few times.

 

Calf stretch

Like a deep calf stretch, stand with one foot in front of the other whilst holding onto a support. Extend one leg behind you and keep the other bent in front of you. Lean forwards and push your back heel towards the ground to feel a nice stretch down the back of your leg.

Hold this position for a few seconds before relaxing. Then switch to the other side.

 

Seated calf stretch

Try a seated calf stretch if standing on your ankle is too uncomfortable. For this, you’ll need a towel or light resistance band.

Sit with your back straight against a wall and wrap the towel or band around one foot. Pull back on the towel or band so the top of your foot moves toward your body. This will result in a satisfying stretch down the back of your leg. Hold the position for a few seconds, and then relax. Repeat a few times, then switch to the other leg.

 

One leg balance

The final exercise you could try is all about balance. For this move, you want to lift one foot off the ground slowly so you’re balanced on one leg. You can keep your foot hovered just off the ground, rested against your calf, or lift it higher for an added challenge.

Keep this position for a few seconds before carefully lowering your foot to the ground. Repeat this a few times before switching to the other leg.

 

What cardio exercise can I do with a sprained ankle?


Doing some cardio training is possible if your injury isn’t too severe, but you should choose gentler forms like swimming. It’s thought that these exercises get the heart pumping, but don’t put too much strain on the ankle, like exercises such as walking or jogging will.6

Can you walk on a sprained ankle?

Can you walk on a sprained ankle?

If your sprain causes you a lot of pain, keep off your ankle until you can comfortably move it or put pressure on it . Once that happens, you may be ready to try walking.

Ultimately, you need to listen to your body and put weight on your injured ankle as soon as pain allows. Over time you will be able to increase the distances you walk. Try using even strides with your heel first and then your toe.7

How to prevent sprains and strains


You can’t always prevent ankle sprains and strains, but there are things you can do to help stop them from happening.3

This includes:

  • warming up before exercising or playing sports
  • getting enough rest
  • strengthening your ankle muscles with gentle exercises

The final say


Injuries like ankle sprains can be uncomfortable and sometimes take a long time to heal. Therefore, it is crucial to take your time recovering and not start exercising or putting pressure on your ankle too quickly.

If it hurts to put weight on your ankle or you start to have symptoms like swelling, bruising or stiffness, you should always consult a medical professional. They can advise you on the next steps to take to encourage your ankle to heal. You should also check with a doctor to ensure you can start exercising safely after your injury.3

Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Before trying supplements, treatments, or remedies, please check with your GP or healthcare professional. In addition, food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

 

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