How Can I Strengthen My Ankles?

If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, you know how painful it can be. Perhaps you stepped off a curb funny or rolled your foot running to catch the bus. It’s not an injury you want to repeat. You can help prevent another if you strengthen your ankles.

When your foot twists beyond its range of motion, the ligaments attached to bones in the leg, foot, and ankle stretch or tear.

Depending on how bad your sprain is, it can take weeks or months to heal. If you’ve had one, chances are, you’ll have another. More than 70% of people get hurt again.

Flexibility, strengthening, and balance exercises can help keep that from happening.

Exercises for Your Ankles

Working your muscles can help protect your ligaments. You can start working on your ankle once your range of motion is back and you can put weight on it. And don’t just work your injured ankle. Exercise the healthy one to keep it that way.

Flexibility training can loosen up tight leg muscles. Try these stretches:

Calf stretch:

  1. Stand about 2 feet from a wall, facing the wall.
  2. Place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Put one foot behind the other – toes pointed straight ahead.
  4. Keep your back leg straight and both heels down.
  5. Gently bend your front knee until you feel the stretch in the back of your other leg.
  6. Reverse the order of your feet and repeat to stretch both legs.

Heel stretch:

  1. Sit down on the floor with your knee bent slightly. Loop a towel around the top of your foot.
  2. Gently pull back until you feel the stretch in your calf and heel.

Do these exercises six times a day for each leg, especially after exercise or another activity.

Continued

Leg-Strengthening Exercises

Strong leg muscles keep your ankles more stable. Grab a chair and take a seat to work the front and inner sides of your shins.

Front “push-out:”

  1. With the chair beside a wall, hold your foot flat on the floor and against the wall.
  2. Push the foot against the wall and hold for 3 seconds.

Front “push-up:”

  1. Put your injured foot flat on the floor.
  2. Place the heel of the other foot on top of the hurt one.
  3. Push down with the top heel while pushing up with the other foot.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other foot.

Inner “push-in:”

  1. With your feet flat on the floor, push them against each other.
  2. Hold for 3 seconds.

Do three sets of 20 reps most days of the week.

Balance Exercises

If you don’t have good balance, your odds of hurting your ankles go up. Do this exercise to stay steady on your feet:

  1. Stand on one leg as long as you can (up to 30 seconds).
  2. Switch to the other leg and do the same thing.
  3. Repeat three to five times on each leg.

Make it more of a challenge by doing something while standing on one foot -- like brushing your hair or talking on the phone.

Tips to Protect Your Ankles

You can help prevent a sprain with these simple precautions:

Warm up. Do ankle stretches before playing sports or exercising.

Watch your step! Take your time when you walk on cracked sidewalks or uneven surfaces.

Wear sensible shoes. Choose footwear that fits well and is suited to what you’re doing. Wear athletic shoes cushioned at the heel and arch for walking and running. For court sports, choose ones that are wider and flatter. Pick boots that support your foot and ankle for hiking or working on uneven land. And consider shoe inserts to keep your arch supported and ankle lined up the way it should be.

Ditch the stilettos. Wearing high heels is one of the biggest causes of ankle sprains among women.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on February 14, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Physical Therapy Association: “Physical Therapist's Guide to Ankle Sprain.”

American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: “How to Strengthen Your Ankle After a Sprain.”

Sydney Sports Medicine Center: “Ankle Sprain Rehabilitation.”

American Physical Therapy Association: “6 Balance Exercises You Can Safely Perform at Home.”

Nemours Foundation: “Ankle Sprains.”

Harvard Medical School:  “Healthy ankles: Your Mobility Depends on Them.”

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