Ankle Sprains – Exercises For Recovery and Prevention

Ankle Sprain Injury

If you’ve played sports or if you’re an active person, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced an ankle sprain. And if you’ve sprained your ankle once, there’s a good chance you sprained it again. In fact, ankle sprains are the #1 most common injury in sports 1 and the most common joint injury in daily life 2. With all of these ankle sprains going on, wouldn’t it be good to know how to recover properly? And, seeing that 80% of athletes who sprain their ankle will sprain it again 3, wouldn’t it be good to know how you can potentially prevent a future sprain?

The goal of proper recovery should focus on prevention – they go hand-in-hand. Like any injury, though, rehabilitation happens in phases. Let’s discuss what you should do immediately after an ankle sprain, within the first few weeks, and within the following months to maximize your recovery and minimize your chances of it happening again.

So You Sprained Your Ankle – What Should You Do First?

You landed wrong, you stepped on someone’s foot or on an uneven surface and your ankle rolled inward… whatever happened, that initial feeling after an ankle sprain isn’t fun.

In addition to the pain, you might also experience some swelling. These are the first symptoms we want to control: pain and swelling. Here’s how you do it: PRICE

  • Protection: from further injury. This might involve wearing an ankle support or brace
  • Rest: allow time to heal. This may take 1 to 3 weeks. Get back to light activity as you are able – the goal is to get moving again
  • Ice: 15–20 minutes to control the swelling
  • Compression: use a wrap or ankle support to help with swelling
  • Elevation: lie on your back and prop your leg up on pillows 18 inches off the bed to help control swelling

Your Next Steps

After you sprain your ankle, you’ll likely experience decreased4:

  • Mobility 5
  • Strength 6
  • Balance 7

Now that you’ve got the swelling under control and have allowed some time for rest and healing, it’s time to start improving these areas – here’s some exercises:

1. Mobility: Calf Stretch

Limited mobility after an ankle sprain can partly be due to stiff muscles in your calf8. Try this exercise to stretch the calf muscles:


2. Strength: Heel Raises

3. Balance: Single Leg Stance – Progress to Pillow

These 3 areas: Mobility, strength, and balance – if not improved, can lead to a chronic instability of the ankle 9, which is a risk factor for more ankle sprains in the future – and we don’t want that, do we?

Prevention is the Goal

Another area that we find to be weak in people with ankle sprains is the muscles in the hip10. These muscles help control your leg and keep your ankle in a good position as you move11. Strengthening the hip is a good idea to improve the control and position of your entire leg.

Here’s an exercise you can do to strengthen the hip muscles:

4. Hip Abduction Strengthening


Once you feel like you’ve recovered, it’s not time to stop these exercises, it’s time to advance them even further.

Increasing the difficulty of balance exercises by closing your eyes, advancing to more unstable surfaces, tossing a ball while balancing, etc. will further improve your balance and ability to control your ankle.

Always strive to improve the strength in your leg. It’s not all about how much weight you can squat, but how all of the muscles in your leg work together to control it during your activity.

Question: What other mobility, balance, and strengthening exercises have you found to be helpful after an ankle sprain? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  3. Smith RW, Reischl SF. Treatment of ankle sprains in young athletes. Am J Sports Med. 1986;14:465–471.  ↩
  4. Safran MR, Benedetti RS, Bartolozzi AR, Mandelbaum BR. Lateral ankle sprains: a comprehensive review:etiology, pathoanatomy, histopathogenesis, and diagnosis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31:S429–S437.  ↩
  5. Hertel J. Functional instability following lateral ankle sprain. Sports Med. 2000;29(5):361–371.  ↩
  6. Bosien WR, et al. Residual disability following acute ankle sprains. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1955;37:1237–43.  ↩
  7. Freeman MAR, et al. The etiology and prevention of functional instability of the foot. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1965;47:669–77.  ↩
  8. Barker HB, Beynnon BD, Renstrom PA. Ankle injury risk factors in sports. Sports Med. 1997;23:69–74.  ↩
  9. Lephart SM, et al. Proprioception of the ankle and knee. Sports Med. 1998;25:149–55.  ↩
  10. Friel KF, et al. Ipsilateral hip abductor weakness after inversion ankle sprain. J Athl Train. 2006;41(1):74–78.  ↩
  11. MacKinnon CD, Winter DA. Control of whole body balance in the frontal plane during human walking. J Biomech. 1993;26:633–644.  ↩
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