5 Tips for Strengthening Your Ankle After a Sprain

A sprained ankle is an injury sustained when ligaments, usually those on the outer side of the ankle, are forced beyond their normal range of motion. It can occur while playing tennis or climbing stairs in high heels. 

Ankle sprains vary in severity. But they need to heal properly and thorough or you can become vulnerable to spraining it again and developing chronic instability.

At Empire Physical Therapy & Athletic Rehabilitation, located in the Midtown East neighborhood in New York City, we’ve helped countless patients overcome ankle injuries and return stronger than ever. Regular ankle strengthening exercises are part of every treatment after a sprain. Here are five key tips that we share with patients. 

Start simple movements early

Your instinct may be to rest your ankle after a sprain, and you’re not entirely wrong. But you don’t want to wait too long before you start your exercise program. If you’re immobile for too long, you may actually delay recovery and make it harder to get started with physical therapy. 

We provide guidelines on when to start your ankle-strengthening program, usually about three to four days after your injury. In the first few days, we recommend RICE: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your first action will be to start putting weight on your injured ankle. Depending on the degree of your sprain, we may recommend you use crutches for support at first.

Ankle ABCs

When you’re resting a sprained ankle, your whole leg and ankle can grow still – much like it feels when you wake from sleep or take a long car ride.

Get your muscles back in the game by doing range-of-motion exercises to help wake up those stiff muscles. These are called the ABCs: While sitting in a straight-back chair, trace the alphabet on the floor with the toes of your affected ankle. Repeat up to three times a day.

Stretch, stretch, stretch

To improve ankle flexibility, you need to give your muscles and tendons a good stretch. Your Achilles tendon and calf muscle are key ones to target.

Try a towel stretch. Place a long rolled towel under your foot, grab both ends with your hands and raise the towel up while keeping your knee straight. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

 If your ankle sprain is severe, you may not be able to get a ton of movement in these tissues. But don’t give up. Keep at it so that your muscles don’t stiffen and delay your recovery.

Build strength

Ankle-strengthening exercises should only happen when we’ve cleared you. Starting them too soon compromises healing and can set you back, or put you at a risk of reinjury later.  

Ideally, you should be able to bear weight on your ankle with minimal to no discomfort before you transition to these types of exercises. 

We recommend you do up to 20 repetitions of each exercise three times a day, at least five times per week.

Bring back your balance

Often times, a repeat ankle sprain occurs because you didn’t adequately restore your balance. Regaining your balance is imperative for your recovery. While standing on your injured ankle, raise up your good foot and hold for as long as you can with a goal of 1 minute. 

For those who are still unsteady after a sprain, stand in a doorway and grab onto the frame when you feel yourself losing balance. Repeat on your good leg to help maintain strength and balance.

Ankle sprains are so common, you may think it’s a minor injury that doesn’t require attention. However, without proper care and rehabilitation, your injury can lead to more problems. For care of a sprained ankle, Empire Physical Therapy & Ankle Rehabilitation by phone or using the online booking tool. We look after your ankle and any other injuries to restore your full vitality.

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