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Exercises to Help Heal Your Sprained Ankle

a man in a white shirt and blue and pink suspenders
By Babafemi Adebajo
Romi Hector
Edited by Romi Hector

Updated February 17, 2023.

A sprained ankle

An ankle sprain occurs when a ligament in the ankle is torn or stretched beyond its limits, causing pain, inflammation, and difficulty moving the ankle. It is important to note that there are various types of ankle sprains. You can also experience sudden ankle pain or ankle pain when walking due to overpronated ankles or arthritis in your ankles. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as you notice any kind of ankle pain to help shorten recovery time. You can also try wearing arch supports.

Central to medical intervention for someone with an ankle sprain is exercise. It is recommended that you begin range-of-motion exercises as early as 72 hours post-injury. As pain and inflammation subside, exercises include stretching, strength training, and balance exercises.

» Learn about the best shoes for an ankle sprain

How to Know if Your Ankle Is Sprained

Depending on the severity of the ankle sprain, you can expect to experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Pain, especially when placing weight onto the affected foot
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited range of motion
  • Ankle instability
  • Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury

An ankle fracture has similar symptoms, but there’s still a clear difference. If there was a popping sound when the pain started and visible malalignment, you’ve likely sustained an ankle fracture. Numbness or a tingling sensation and pain directly over the ankle bone (instead of the soft part of the ankle) point to an ankle fracture.

» If you're still unsure, take a look at this ankle sprain symptom checker

What Types of Exercises Can You Do for a Sprained Ankle?

Depending on the stage of recovery, four types of exercises are recommended for the treatment of ankle sprains: range of motion (ROM), stretching, strengthening, and balance and control exercises.

When performing these exercises, let your pain level guide you. If you experience more than mild pain, stop the exercise. Also, note that the timing and type of exercise may vary based on the stage of recovery.

Best Ankle Exercises for Sprained Ankles

Ankle ROM Exercises

These exercises help you maintain your ankle's flexibility and range of motion. They can be performed as much as 5 times a day.

Ankle alphabet

  • While seated on a comfortable chair, extend your leg.
  • Attempt to trace each of the letters of the alphabet in the air, leading with your big toe.
  • If there’s no pain, repeat 2 to 3 times.

Towel scrunches

  • Start seated in a chair with a small towel placed on the floor in front of you.
  • With your bare feet, grab the towel with your toes, scrunch it up, and hold for up to 5 seconds.
  • Release the towel and repeat, performing 8–10 reps.

Ankle Stretching Exercises

As soon as you can, begin stretching your Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bone and plays a significant role in the ankle's range of motion.

Calf stretch

  • Sit on the floor with your leg stretched out.
  • Wrap a towel or strap around the ball of your foot, holding on to each end.
  • Pull the towel or strap towards your upper body to pull your toes towards you. You should feel a stretch in your calf.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then release.
  • Repeat up to 10 times.

Standing calf stretch

  • While standing, place your injured foot one step back, leaving your unaffected foot in front. You can hold on to a wall, countertop, or chair for support.
  • With your heel flat on the floor, bend the knee of the unaffected leg slowly. Stop when you feel a moderate stretch in the calf of the affected limb.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds before releasing. Repeat 3 times.

Heel raise

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can place your hands on something for support.
  • Slowly lift your heels, rest on your toes, and then go back down.
  • Repeat up to 10 times, aiming for a moderate stretch and no pain.

Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Once it becomes comfortable and pain-free to bear weight on your ankle, you can begin ankle strengthening exercises. While you can perform auto-resisted exercises using your body weight, using an elastic resistance band is best.

Elastic band pull

  • Begin by tying the resistance band around a heavy object close by.
  • Sit on the floor and hook your toes and upper foot into the band.
  • Try to pull your foot back and then return to a vertical position.
  • Repeat up to 10 times.

Ankle Balance and Control Exercises

These exercises help train your balance and control.

Basic balance

  • While standing on the affected foot, lift the unaffected foot off the floor behind you and try to maintain balance. Consider holding on to a countertop or chair for support.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds and continue to build up from there.