The American College of Sports Medicine estimates that 25,000 Americans suffer from an ankle sprain each day, and more than 80 percent of ankle sprains result from inward rolling movements that occur during high-impact activities, such as running and jumping. Because those who have experienced an ankle fracture or sprain are at an increased risk of re-injury, strengthening the ankle through low-impact balance, resistance and stretching exercises is crucial.
Focus on Balance
Balance training can reduce the risk of ankle re-injury by more than 50 percent, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Used to strengthen and stabilize the ankle, use either a balance board or standing floor exercises for balance training. If you are able to stand on your injured foot without pain, the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois recommends standing on your injured leg only for as long as you are able, eventually building up to a holding period of 30 seconds. As your balance improves, increase the difficulty by balancing on a cushion or pillow instead of the floor.
Incorporate Resistance Exercises
Strengthening lower leg muscles is crucial for ankle stabilization. One effective exercise for strengthening the calves and shins is ankle flexion. To perform the exercise, you need a resistance or exercise band. Sitting on the floor with one leg extended in front of you and the other leg bent, place the resistance band around the ball of your foot on the extended leg. Begin the exercise with your toes pointing away from your upper body, and then slowly pull your toes toward your shin. Keep your knee relaxed and straight to ensure that all movement is coming from your ankle. Plan to perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
Stretching exercises should focus on restoring or maintaining ankle range of motion and calf flexibility. One simple range-of-motion exercise involves simply moving your ankle in circles. Circle your ankle to the right for 10 repetitions and then switch sides, moving the ankle in circles to the left. Plan to repeat this exercise three or four times each day. To stretch the gastrocnemius muscle of the calf, stand facing the wall with your injured leg behind you. Point your injured foot towards the wall and press on the wall with the palm of your hands. Bend your front knee until you feel the calf muscle of your back leg stretching. Throughout the exercise, make sure that both heels are placed firmly on the floor and that your back leg remains straight.
Walk, Don't Run
To ensure you don’t become a couch potato during your rehabilitation, perform low-impact aerobic exercises that are easy on the joints. Swimming, cycling, using an elliptical machine or walking are all effective options. It may be several months before you are able to return to your usual activities, so patience is key. Do not adhere to the motto “no pain, no gain.” If you are experiencing pain, contact your doctor.
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