When someone sprains their ankle, they damage the ligaments that surround the joint. The ankle joint is not as stable as it used to be, so it will be more susceptible to reinjury. Once the pain and swelling have decreased and you have full motion at the ankle, you should begin strengthening exercises. To help prevent reinjury, you can strengthen the muscles that are around the ankle joint. To strengthen the ankle, you can perform exercises with surgical tubing or exercise bands. The exercises are plantar flexion, dorsiflexion, eversion and inversion. These exercises correspond to moving the foot upward, downward, inward and outward.
To perform dorsiflexion, the band will be placed around the top of the foot and another person will hold the end of the band. Then pull your foot upward and slowly let it return downward. To perform plantar flexion exercise, the band needs to be placed around the bottom of the foot. Then hold the end of the band and push the foot down against the band as if pushing on a gas pedal. To perform the eversion strengthening exercise, the band needs to be placed on the lateral (outside) part of the foot, while holding the other end of the band at the other side. To perform the inversion exercise, place the band around the medial (inside) part of the foot and have someone hold the other end of the band at the other side. The person holding the end of the band needs to hold tight enough so that it applies resistance without too much tension. If the resistance becomes too easy, then you are ready to progress to the next resistance band strength level.
In addition, it is important to work on balancing on the injured ankle as well. Stand on your injured leg, with the knee slightly bent. Then balance on one leg for 30 seconds. Once you are able to balance easily on level ground for 30 seconds, have someone throw a ball for you to catch while balancing or close your eyes while balancing.
Should any of these exercises cause pain, seek medical attention from a physician. The physician may also refer you to an appropriate healthcare provider, such as an athletic trainer, to assist you with a progressive rehabilitation program.
(This answer provided for NATA by the King College Athletic Training Education Program.)