Ankle Exercises That Will Help You Avoid a Sprain

An ankle sprain is a very common injury and one that we regularly see here at Advanced Foot, Ankle, & Wound Specialists. Below, our team of board-certified podiatrists explains how exercises can keep your ankles healthy and which ones can help you avoid an ankle sprain.

How exercise helps you avoid a sprain

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, affecting both athletes and non-athletes alike. Ankle sprains reduce mobility, cause pain, and interfere with your ability to perform daily tasks. As many as 40% of individuals who sprain their ankle experience ongoing issues including ankle instability. 

What role does exercise have in preventing this injury in the first place? Ankle exercises help prevent injury by:

The following five exercises are particularly helpful for strengthening your ankle:

1. Ankle circles

Ankle circles are an easy seated exercise that you can practice at work, on the train, or even watching TV at home.

Raise your right leg and cross it over your left knee, then move your right ankle slowly, making a circle pattern. Complete 10-15 circles, then reverse the direction for an additional 10-15 rotations

When you’re finished with your right ankle, repeat the process for your left ankle.

2. Ankle ABCs

Ankle ABCs reduce your risk of sprains by improving the range of motion in your ankle. To perform ankle ABCs, begin by sitting on a chair and stretching your right leg out in front of you so your right foot hovers in the air.

By pointing and flexing your foot, trace each letter of the alphabet in the air. As with the ankle circles, you can repeat the process for your left ankle too. 

3. Toe-heel walks

If your calf muscles are weak or tight, it can contribute to ankle instability. Toe-heel walks aren’t technically an ankle exercise, but they help you avoid ankle injuries by strengthening your calf muscles. Toe-heel walks also strengthen the muscles in the front around your shin. 

Walk on your toes for about 30 paces, then walk on your heels for 30 paces. Next, combine the toe walk with the heel walk for 30 paces by stepping forward with your heel and rolling forward onto your toes.

After each toe-heel step, engage your calf by lifting up on your toes to perform a calf raise. Don’t rush through toe-heel walks. Work slowly without sacrificing form.

4. Single leg balances

Single leg balances (like a flamingo) build your ankle strength. This is a very simple exercise, but it can easily be modified to increase difficulty. 

Simply stand on one foot to improve your balance. Start by standing on a stable flat surface, then stretch your arms out to the sides and lift your left leg off the floor, slightly bending it at the knee. Balance on your right leg for up to 30 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat this exercise 6-8 times, then do the same exercise standing on your left leg.

Over time, you can increase the difficulty of this exercise by performing a one-leg balance standing on a pillow, a towel, or a BOSU® ball. Try to stand on one leg for up to one minute. 

5. Towel stretches

Towel stretches increase the range of motion in your ankle. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your knees straight. Grab a towel and wrap it around the bottom of your toes, pulling back on the towel to gently stretch your foot toward you.

Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, then repeat it 2-4 times before switching to the other foot.

Tip: You can also use rubber or latex therapy bands to perform these exercises.

What if you sprain your ankle anyway?

Ankle-strengthening exercises go a long way in keeping your ankles strong, but it’s still possible to sprain your ankle. Even the most conditioned athletes sprain their ankles if the conditions are right.

If you sprain your ankle, follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) protocol immediately. 

At Advanced Foot, Ankle, & Wound Specialists, we assess and diagnose your injury (and confirm if it’s a sprain or strain) with a physical exam and diagnostic imaging, such as an  X-ray or MRI imaging. 

Depending on the severity of your injury, we suggest the appropriate treatment plan, including a brace to immobilize your ankle, specific exercises to help you recover, and (if needed) surgery. 

Do you think you sprained your ankle? Contact us at the location of your choice: Tamarac, Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, or Hollywood, Florida.

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