Ankle-Strengthening Exercises to Avoid Injury

Ankle injuries often strike athletes, but anyone can suffer a strain or sprain even just stepping off a curb or walking on an uneven surface. Ankle injuries range in severity, but even a mild one can interfere with sports training, exercise, or daily function.

While you can never guarantee freedom from injury, preventive strengthening and range-of-motion work can increase stability and resilience in your ankles. Make your ankles resistant to injury with the following exercises.

Ankle alphabet

This exercise improves range of motion in your ankle. To do the exercise, sit in a chair or sit on the ground with your knees bent. Lift one leg slightly off the ground, and draw the letters of the alphabet with your foot. Go through all 26 letters, and then repeat with the other foot.

Single-leg balance

Balancing on one leg strengthens your ankle joint. Start by standing on one leg just while doing mundane daily activities, such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Over time, add balance challenges by standing on a foam pad or BOSU balance trainer. Stand on one leg for 30 to 60 seconds at a time.

Four-square drills

Create a square on the floor using tape, and divide it into a grid of four equal squares. Hop on one foot in the following directions: side-to-side, front-to-back, clockwise, and counterclockwise. Do about 20 jumps in each direction. Repeat with the other leg.

Resistance band work

Resistance from a latex band improves your range of motion in multiple directions. Sit on the floor with your legs extended and wrap the resistance band around the ball of one foot. Start with your toes pointing straight up, and point them away from you for about 20 reps. Then, pull the toes toward your shin for 20 reps.

Evert your foot — rotate your toes to the side — for approximately 20 reps, and then invert — rotate your toes toward the midline of your body — for 20 reps. Repeat on the other leg.

Heel-Toe walks

Heel-toe walks work the muscles that surround the joint to help with stabilization and strength. To do the exercise, find a long hallway or another flat stretch. Walk on your heels only as you move forward for four steps, then switch to your tip-toes. Continue to alternate this walking pattern for a minute or two.

Ankle circles

Ankle circles improve mobility and range of motion in your ankle joint. Sit on the floor with your knees bent, or perform the exercise while seated in a chair. Lift one leg and do 20-30 circles with your ankle in a clockwise direction. Move slowly, really working through the entire range of motion. Pause, then switch directions for an equal number of reps. Repeat with the other leg.

For improvement in your ankle strength, balance, flexibility, and overall function, perform these exercises at least three times each week. If you have other questions or are experiencing ankle pain, contact Dr. Dominique Nickson at Next Step Orthopedics.

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