Rehabilitation Exercises for a Sprained Ankle: Top 5 Must-Do Workouts for Recovery

by | Apr 29, 2024

Comprehensive Guide to Ankle Rehabilitation: Top 5 Evidence-Based Exercises for Post-Ankle Sprain or Fracture

Ankle injuries, such as sprains or fractures, can significantly impact mobility and quality of life. Proper rehabilitation is crucial for restoring function and preventing long-term complications. An essential component of ankle rehabilitation is improving ankle mobility, which involves restoring the range of motion, strength, and stability of the ankle joint. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the top five evidence-based exercises for enhancing ankle mobility after an ankle sprain or fracture, providing detailed instructions, variations, and insights into their effectiveness.

  1. Ankle Alphabet Exercises: Ankle alphabet exercises are simple yet effective in improving ankle mobility. This rehabilitation exercise involves tracing the letters of the alphabet with your toes, promoting movement in all directions of the ankle joint. Research has shown that ankle alphabet exercises are beneficial for increasing ankle range of motion and reducing stiffness. The variability of movement patterns engages the muscles, ligaments, and tendons surrounding the ankle, promoting flexibility and mobility. Additionally, ankle alphabet exercises can help improve proprioception, enhancing joint awareness and stability, which are crucial for preventing injury.


  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your injured foot off the floor.
  • Keep your back straight and your ankles and toes pointed forward.
  • Slowly move your ankle to trace the letters of the alphabet in the air.
  • Maintain a pain-free range of motion and focus on smooth, controlled movements.
  • Perform the exercise slowly to ensure full range of motion and proprioception at the ankle joint.
  • Repeat the exercise for 3 to 5 sets, gradually increasing the intensity and duration as tolerated.


  • Perform the exercise while standing or sitting on a stability ball to challenge balance and stability.
  • Incorporate ankle circles or ankle mobilization techniques into the alphabet tracing for additional range of motion exercises.


  1. Calf Stretch: Tight calf muscles can limit ankle mobility and exacerbate ankle stiffness. Incorporating calf stretches into your ankle rehabilitation program can help alleviate tightness and improve ankle flexibility, reducing the risk of injury. Research has demonstrated that regular calf stretching significantly enhances ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, which is essential for activities such as walking, running, and squatting. By targeting the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, calf stretches promote elongation and relaxation, reducing tension in the calf and Achilles tendon.


  • Stand facing a wall with your injured foot back and your other foot forward.
  • Keep your back leg straight and your heel on the ground.
  • Bend your front knee and lean forward, pressing your back heel toward the floor.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, focusing on deep breathing and relaxation.
  • Repeat the stretch 3 to 5 times, gradually increasing the intensity of the stretch as tolerated.


  • Perform the stretch with a bent knee to target the soleus muscle, which lies deeper in the calf.
  • Use a towel or strap to assist with the stretch if flexibility is limited.
  • Incorporate dynamic movements, such as calf raises or heel drops, into the stretch to improve ankle strength and stability.


  1. Towel Scrunches: Towel scrunches are proprioceptive exercises that target the muscles of the foot and ankle while promoting mobility and strength. This ankle strengthening exercise involves using the toes to scrunch a towel toward you, engaging the muscles of the foot and ankle in a coordinated manner. Research has shown that towel scrunch exercises effectively increase ankle strength and stability, which are essential for maintaining balance and preventing re-injury. By incorporating towel scrunches into your ankle rehabilitation program, you can improve the strength and coordination of the muscles and tendons surrounding the ankle joint.


  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and a towel placed under your injured foot.
  • Use your toes to grip the towel and scrunch it toward you, lifting the towel off the floor.
  • Hold the scrunch position for a few seconds, focusing on engaging the muscles of the foot and ankle.
  • Release the towel and repeat the scrunching motion for 10-15 repetitions.
  • Gradually increase the number of repetitions and resistance by using a thicker towel or adding resistance with your hands.


  • Perform towel scrunches with one foot at a time to isolate and strengthen each ankle individually.
  • Place a small object, such as a marble or a small ball, on the towel and try to scrunch it toward you for added challenge and coordination.
  • Combine towel scrunches with ankle range of motion exercises, such as pointing and flexing the foot, to target multiple aspects of ankle mobility and strength.


  1. Ankle Dorsiflexion with Resistance Band: Resistance band exercises are effective for targeting specific muscle groups involved in ankle mobility and strength. Ankle dorsiflexion with a resistance band is particularly beneficial for strengthening the muscles responsible for pulling the foot upward, improving dorsiflexion range of motion. Research supports the effectiveness of resistance band exercises for enhancing ankle strength and mobility, making them a valuable addition to any ankle rehabilitation program.


  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and a resistance band looped around the ball of your injured foot.
  • Hold the ends of the resistance band with your hands, ensuring there is tension in the band.
  • Slowly move your foot upward, pulling your toes toward your body against the resistance of the band.
  • Hold the dorsiflexed position for a few seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the movement for 10-15 repetitions, focusing on controlled and smooth movements.
  • Switch to the other foot and perform the same exercise to target both ankles equally.


  • Adjust the tension of the resistance band by changing the position of your hands or using a band with different resistance levels.
  • Perform the exercise in different positions, such as sitting, standing, or lying down, to vary the muscle activation and challenge.
  • Combine ankle dorsiflexion with other resistance band exercises, such as plantarflexion or inversion, to target additional muscle groups and movement patterns.


  1. Single Leg Balance Exercises: Balance exercises are essential for restoring proprioception and stability to the ankle joint following injury. Single leg balance exercises challenge the muscles and ligaments surrounding the ankle, promoting improved balance, coordination, and neuromuscular control. Research has shown that incorporating single leg balance exercises into a rehabilitation program results in significant improvements in ankle stability and function, reducing the risk of re-injury and enhancing overall mobility.


  • Stand on your injured foot with your other foot lifted slightly off the ground.
  • Keep your shoulders back, your core engaged, and your gaze focused on a fixed point in front of you.
  • Slowly move your knee to maintain balance, ensuring that your ankle remains stable.
  • Hold the single leg balance position for 30-60 seconds, focusing on steady and controlled movement.
  • If balance is challenging, lightly touch a wall or chair for support, gradually decreasing the amount of assistance as balance improves.
  • Switch to the other leg and repeat the exercise to target both ankles equally.


  • Close your eyes while performing single leg balance exercises to further challenge proprioception and balance.
  • Add dynamic movements, such as swinging your arms or lifting your knee, to increase the difficulty and engagement of the exercise.
  • Perform the exercise on an unstable surface, such as a balance board or foam pad, to enhance proprioception and ankle stability.


Incorporating these evidence-based ankle rehabilitation exercises into your daily routine can help improve ankle mobility, prevent injury, and enhance overall function. Remember to perform exercises and stretches slowly and pain-free, gradually increasing the intensity and duration as tolerated. If you have a previous ankle injury or chronic ankle pain, consult with a physical therapist or healthcare professional for personalized exercise prescription and guidance. With dedication and consistency, you can regain ankle strength and stability, allowing you to return to your daily activities with confidence and reduced risk of injury.



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