Sprained Ankle: Rehabilitation Exercises
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Ankle sprains are common injuries that can result in lifelong problems. Some people with repeated or severe sprains can develop long-term joint pain and weakness. Treating a sprained ankle can help prevent ongoing ankle problems.
Rehabilitation (rehab) exercises are critical to ensure that the ankle heals completely and reinjury does not occur.
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An ankle sprain occurs when ligaments that connect the bones in the foot, ankle, and lower leg are stretched or torn.
An ankle sprain often happens when you make a rapid shifting movement with your foot planted, for example, when playing soccer or getting tackled in football. Most commonly, the ankle rolls outward and the foot turns inward in what is called an inversion injury. It results in stretching and tearing of the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
Less commonly, the ankle rolls inward and the foot turns outward in an eversion injury, damaging the ligaments at the inside of the ankle.
See your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following:
You should see your doctor after an ankle sprain if you notice any of the following:
Also be sure to contact your doctor if you have a cast or splint around your ankle that feels too tight.
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Inversion injuries result in stretching or tearing of the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
If ligaments do not heal properly after an ankle sprain, the ankle can become weak and unstable and give out with only minor trauma, such as stepping off a curb. Rehabilitation exercises help repair and strengthen injured ligaments.
Test Your Knowledge
Rehabilitation exercises are not important for ankle injuries.
Start each exercise slowly and use your pain level to guide you in doing these exercises. Ease off the exercise if you have more than mild pain. Following are some examples of typical rehabilitation (rehab) exercises.
Keep in mind that the timing and type of rehab exercises recommended for you may vary according to your doctor's or physical therapist's preferences.
Range-of-motion exercises begin right after your injury. Try doing these exercises then putting ice on your ankle, up to 5 times a day. These are easy to do while you are at a desk or watching TV.
Try the following simple range-of-motion exercises:
Towel curls. While sitting, place a hand towel on a smooth floor, such as wood or tile. Keeping your heel on the ground, curl your toes and grab the towel with your toes to scrunch the towel. Let go, and continue scrunching up the entire length of the towel. When you reach the end of the towel, reverse the action by grabbing the towel with your toes, scrunching it, and pushing it away from you. Repeat, until you have pushed the entire length of the towel away from you.
Start exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon as soon as you can do so without pain. The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles on the back of the lower leg to the bone at the base of the heel. Try the towel stretch if you need to sit down, or try the calf stretch if you can stand.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the timing of strengthening exercises for the ankle. Typically you can start them when you are able to stand without increased pain or swelling.
Do 8 to 12 repetitions of these exercises once or twice daily for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the severity of your injury.
Balance and control exercises
You can usually start balance and control exercises when you are able to stand without pain. But talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the exact timing. Also, don't try these exercises if you could not have done them easily before your injury. If you think you would have felt unsteady doing these exercises when your ankle was healthy, you are at risk of falling when you try them with an injured ankle.
Practice your balance exercise at least once a day, repeating it about 6 times in each session.
Stretching exercises should be continued on a daily basis and especially before and after physical activities to prevent reinjury. Even after your ankle feels better, continue with strengthening exercises and balance and control exercises several times a week to keep your ankles strong.
Test Your Knowledge
Begin muscle-strengthening exercises after you can stand without increased pain or swelling.
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