The ankle is a complex, lubricated (synovial) hinge joint that connects the bones of your lower leg (fibula and tibia) with your ankle bone (talus) and foot. Supported and stabilized by various tendons and ligaments, this important weight-bearing joint plays a key role in everything from normal mobility and proper biomechanics to optimal sports performance.
Ankle instability can be a result of overly tight muscles, a stiff, arthritic joint, a weak stabilizing ligament that’s still healing from a sprain injury, or a supporting tendon that’s recovering from the inflammatory effects of an overuse injury.
No matter what type of ankle problem brings you to Sports Medicine Oregon, you can expect our skilled team of board-certified orthopedists to make integrated physical therapy a key part of your treatment plan. Here, we go over a few simple exercises and stretches you can do at home to strengthen your ankle, improve its mobility, and stay on your feet.
1. Supine dorsiflexion
One of the simplest ankle strengthening exercises is supine dorsiflexion. Because it’s a non-weight-bearing exercise you do while lying on the floor, this movement is ideal when you’re working to regain your ability to walk normally at the start of the rehabilitation process.
Lie on your back with your legs stretched out and your knees straight. Moving only your ankle, point your toes back toward your nose, going as far as you comfortably can. You’ll feel your calf stretch as your heel extends away from your body. Hold the ankle flexion for 30 seconds before slowly returning to a neutral position.
2. Supine plantar flexion
Supine plantar flexion, which helps improve ankle range of motion, is basically the opposite motion as dorsiflexion. Done while lying on your back with your legs stretched out, this non-weight-bearing stretch promotes a more balanced ankle structure.
Instead of using your ankle motion to point your toes back toward your nose, you point your toes away from your body as far as you comfortably can. You’ll feel your calf contract (tighten) as your heel slides toward your body. Hold the plantar flexion for 30 seconds before slowly returning to a neutral position.
3. Ankle alphabet
To strengthen and stabilize structures of your ankle and improve joint mobility in all directions, “write” the alphabet with your toes as you flex your foot. If you’re still in the early phases of joint strengthening or injury recovery, do this exercise lying on your back or sitting in a chair.
From either position, simply lift your foot slightly off the ground and use your big toe to “draw” each letter of the alphabet. Keep your leg as still as possible, allowing the motion to originate in your ankle joint. Repeat on the other side.
4. Single leg stance
This ankle strengthening exercise is as simple as it sounds. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Slowly lift one foot off the floor and shift your full weight onto your supporting leg. Try to maintain your single leg stance for 20 seconds; repeat three times on each side.
As you get stronger, you can modify the single leg stance by adding a forward leg reach. As you shift your balance and weight to one leg, extend your other leg out in front of your body. Try to hold the pose for 20 seconds, repeating the exercise three times on each side.
5. Standing calf raises
As a standing, leveled-up version of supine plantar flexion, this exercise both strengthens and stretches your ankle and calf muscles. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your weight evenly distributed to both feet. Slowly shift your weight onto the balls of your feet and your toes as you raise your heels off the ground, then slowly return your heels to the floor. Repeat the motion 10 times.
You can also perform this exercise with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step or raised platform. When using a step, slowly push up onto the balls of your feet and raise your heels, then slowly lower your heels down just below the step level to stretch your Achilles tendon.
Your ankle rehabilitation plan
Ankle rehabilitation is a gradual, measured process that usually begins with supine or seated ankle movements and progresses to weight-bearing exercises. You can expect to increase repetitions — and add resistance like an elastic band — as you get stronger.
To learn how we can help you strengthen your ankle and restore your mobility, call or click online to schedule a visit at Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today.