Fastest ankle sprain rehab program - get back on your feet quickly and safely

If you've rolled your ankle outwards then you need the fastest ankle sprain rehab program so that you can get back on your feet as quickly as possible. In summary the exercises here are based on the four pillars of joint training:

  • Mobilisation (writing your name)
  • Stabilisation (ankle balance exercises)
  • Strength (single leg raises and theraband work)
  • Stretch (shin and calf muscles)

If your sprain rehabilitation program use these four principles of a healthy joint, then not only are you going to recover quicker, but you are going to avoid future injury.

Before starting any ankle sprain rehab..

Before you start this ankle sprain rehab program, you need to make sure that actually have got ankle sprain. If have a fracture or a syndesmotic sprain (high ankle sprain) you need a period of rest before you start - failure to do so could result in further injury.

Here at the OFC we use the Otawa rules for determining the severity of any eversion (outward) ankle sprain. If you are in any doubt then seek medical advice before commencing on this program.

Watch our short video below to find out what ankle sprain actually is.

Immediate response to an ankle sprain: PRICED - Phase 0

Don't worry its free info, not priced; PRICED refers to what needs to be done immediately after an ankle sprain.

  • Protection
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation
  • Drugs (always consult your doctor before taking any painkillers)

After approximately 1 week of applying the principles of the PRICED protocol you can begin your ankle sprain rehab program.

Ankle sprain rehab - Phase 1

Where to start? Effleurage!

With any sprain we want to start with the softest, most gentle approach possible - effleurage. Effleurage is a process which seeks to remove excess fluid and swelling which may have accumulated around the joint. Use a flat hand and with your ankle elevated, gently stroke your foot and ankle, starting at the toes and moving upwards past the ankle into the calf. 

Do this stroking motion approximately 10 - 15 times. You should begin to see that any swelling that was there before has started to go down. Do this gentle massage every time and before you do anything else in this ankle rehab program.

Add agility - try some Mobility

Sorry for the terrible rhyme - but in all seriousness, mobility at this point is a must. Slowly restoring your ankle range of motion is going to be an ongoing goal.

Up and down

To start with we are going to begin with very gentle up and down movements. These actions, known as dorsiflexion (up) and plantarflexion (down) are not only going to help with mobility but they also aid in getting waste away from the area and a fresh blood supply into the area - both critical factors if you want the fastest recovery possible.

Do this movement 10 times per session.

In and out

Next move onto ankle eversion and inversion, also called 'in and out'. Point the sole of your foot inwards and then outwards.

Over doing this exercises can be painful and can irritated the outside of your ankle so listen to you body and only do what you feel is comfortable. Don't ignore pain! 

Do this movement 10 times per session.

Round and round

By combining these movements into a circular fashion you get circumduction. Imagine you are drawing a circle with you big toe.

Pain and discomfort at this point is a bit no no, complete the circles within the range of motion you currently have - not more.

Repeat this mobility exercise 10 times.

This is all you are going to do for one week. Repeat these exercises in one session, as gently as possible for 3-4 times per day for 1 week while also applying any relevant principles of PRICED - discussed above. 

After one week you new mobility exercise is going to be writing the alphabet - imagine your big toe is big pen and then, draw out the alphabet! Slowly to start with, speeding up as the pain decreases and your range of motion improves. Make drawing out the alphabet the starting exercise for each session of the next phase of your ankle sprain rehab.

Ankle sprain rehab - Phase 2

You been using effluerage and ankle mobility exercises for one week and the pain and swelling should have come right down although you may still have some significant discolouration. You ankle mobility by now should be at least 60-70% of normal without too much pain. If its not 60-70% of normal then sorry - you are not ready for the next phase - keep going with phase 1. If it is, then you are ready to move onto stability

Fragility or Stability?

That's right - it time for some ankle stability training. This process works on rebuilding your sense of proprioception while also has the indirect effect of strengthening and stabilising your ankle. With these exercises it is important that you listen to your body; if there is significant pain or you just find them too difficult then the chances are you are still not ready - take a step back and be patient.

Continue doing each session 3-4 times per day, less if you are experiencing pain or discomfort.

Single leg balance

This simple balance exercise involves standing on the effected leg. Start by making sure you have something to support yourself, and then simply lift your other (good) leg off the ground so you are balancing on one foot.

Gradually let go of your support. If this is too painful then stop, have patience and take a few more days rest.

Hold this position for about 10-15 seconds per session.

Single leg balance with you eyes closed

After a couple of days of balancing on your affect leg you should find that you are finding it easier and easier. If this is the case you are ready to pick it up a bit and start doing it with your eyes closed.

Repeat as above but with both eyes shut - you may want to make sure you have got something close by the grab hold of just in case.

Pretend you can fly!

This next phase picks things up quite significantly and needs to be done after at least 1 week of doing the stability exercises above. Even then you need to do it with care.

Hold you arms out beside you like you are on the titanic, and lean forwards, using you good leg as a counter balance. 

Hold for 10 - 15 seconds each session

Pretend to fly.. with your eyes closed??

Maybe not the best idea if you are an actual pilot - but in this you should be fine. This is the most advanced ankle sprain rehab exercise to date and should only be attempted once you are completely confident doing this with your eyes open, and have no pain. The process is the same as above but with your eyes closed.

Hold for 10-15 seconds per session.

Ankle sprain rehab - Phase 3

At this point you should be in your third week or ankle sprain rehab, possibly starting your fourth. If you are not at this point yet don't worry! Some ankle sprains are worse than others and take longer - its as simple as that. You can't rush this. If you don't feel confident moving onto the next phase yet then keep going with the exercises above until you do.

Lengthening and strengthening

This phase is the penultimate phase of your rehab and involves beginning to strengthen the muscles that support and control the ankle. In doing so you are increasing ankle stability and decreasing the possibility for future injury - a high possibility in eversion ankle sprains.

Calf Muscles - stretching

When rehabilitating joints, removing muscular tension is a must. To do so, the muscle needs to be held in a stretched position for approximately 10-15 seconds.

In this case the muscles in question are the gasctrocnemius and soleus and form your calf. You can do this sitting or standing as demonstrated in the pictures.

Once per session holding for 10-15 seconds

Calf muscles strengthen

You calf muscles dorsiflex your foot, an important movement especially for walking and running.

To strengthening the gastrocs and soleus muscles push your foot down against resistance. This can be most easily by simply going up onto your tiptoes.

Try this for a few days and then if you think you can double the weight start doing it on one leg.

If you get really good at that you begin to use a theraband as demonstrated in the image. 

Shin muscles - stretching

The main muscle at the front of you leg is your tibialis anterior muscle. During walking and running this muscle lifts your foot up at the ankle. Stretching this muscle helps to remove tension which may restrict its proper function possibly leading to further injury. 

The stretch is quite straight forward and can be done sitting or standing as demonstrated in the pictures.

Repeat 10 -15 times per session

Warning! You need to be careful with this stretch as you may inadvertently also be stretching the anterior talo-fibular ligament - the ligament most likely injured during your stretch. In the case of pain, limit the extent of the stretch.

Shin muscle strengthening

Strengthening you shin muscles requires a little bit more imagination. The most effective way is use a theraband as is demonstrated in the picture to the right. 

You can also stand and simple bring you foot upwards, hinging at the ankle. This is good enough for the initial stages of tibialis anterior strengthening.

Repeat this exercise for a good 10-15 times each session.

Ankle sprain rehab - Phase 4

By now you are probably around the fifth or sixth week of rehab and things should be going pretty well with your ankle sprain rehab. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can go straight back into running, or jump back into the squash court or whatever it is you might be into. The damage to the ligament is still present meaning that you are still vulnerable to re-straining your ankle. Take your time and move onto the final, more advanced ankle training and rehabilitation phase. Phase 4.

Follow this link for a more in-depth view of how ankle sprain treatment.

We hoped you enjoyed this ankle sprain rehab program and that your ankle is back to it's former glory. Please take the time to check the the rest of what the OFC has to offer, or go back to our homepage.