The 3 goals of successful ankle pain rehabilitation are to restore mobility to the joint – stretch out scar tissue – strengthen the ankles stabilising muscles.
The good news is that effective ankle rehab doesn’t need to be fancy, in fact it’s better if it isn’t. Rather than a wide variety of complex movements it is better to focus on absolute absolutel mastery, understanding & persistent execution of a few simple but highly targeted ones. For these reasons, this exercise sheet contains very simple exercises, but with fairly in depth explanations on the how’s & why’s of their execution.
The type of strength exercises that you need if you have ankle pain are those that target your ‘balance’ muscles’ not only in your ankle and foot but your whole leg. The ankle has minimal muscle support itself so it relies heavily on the muscles of the hip and knee for the prevention of pain and injury.
The type of stretching exercises you need are those that take the ankle through it’s full range of movements.
Wobble Pad – Strength Exercise For Ankle Pain
Stand 1 legged on the pad, on the same side as your dominant hand.
Find your balance, engage your weight along the outer ⅔ of your foot ie. without leaning your weight inwards onto your big toe.
Hold yourself as steady as you can for a full minute maintaining the same alignment. Try to be steady and control any side to side wobble to the best of your ability.
*if you can’t be safe and steady unassisted, use a hand on a wall, door frame or a piece of furniture to keep yourself steady. You can gradually reduce the amount of assistance you give yourself until you only need a single finger for support, and then no support.
*a good way to think of balance in this is that if your weight leans in and on to your big toe (below) your ankle has collapsed and you have lost control.
*this may be a simple exercise but don’t underestimate its power, it restores strength to the muscles of the entire leg which is vitally important if you want to have a chance of resolving your pain and maintain mobility in the longer term.
Ankle Circles – Stretch Exercise For Ankle Pain
Stand on 1 leg and find you steady balance as best you can using the same principles as the wobble pad (only on the floor). Make sure you are steady enough to not fall even if it means grabbing hold of something. Bring your non-supporting leg to 90 with you knee bent.
Starting with your toe pointing downwards firmly start to draw a large clockwise circle slowly with the tip of your toe (as per pics below). Go slowly enough that you can make the circle as smooth and controlled as possible. *repeat this 9 times so you have drawn 9 big slow circles, make effort to stretch – this means making the circle as big as possible without undue pain.
At the completion of the 9 clockwise circles start at 6 o’clock again and draw 9 anti-clockwise circles in the same way.
Repeat the 18 rotations ( 9 clockwise & 9 anti ) twice on each leg. That will total 36 rotations on each leg.
*this process will take a good 5 minutes or more to complete if you go nice and slow, as you should. 5 mins can feel like quite a long time doing a repetitive motion like this it is more than worth the effort.
*as with the previous exercise use a hand on a wall for support if you feel unsteady. Ankle pain sufferers often have poor balance.
*aim for smooth rotations of the ankle, smooth motion reflects good control of your leg, ankle and foot muscles.
*don’t lose track of consciously balancing well with the supporting leg.
This can make the whole thing a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, and that’s the whole idea. Good rehabilitation of ankle pain strengthens muscles but it also improves coordination of all the relevant body parts.
Ankle Up and Down – Stretch For Ankle Pain
Stand on 1 leg and balance carefully making sure that you are steady, and that your weight isn’t collapsing onto your big toe repeatedly (like you did on the wobble pad) . This means your weight should be balanced subtly over the outer margin of your foot. Bring the non-supporting leg to 90 degrees.
*as prev use a structure for support if you are unsteady….. safety first.
Starting the first rep – stretch the tip of your toe up towards towards the ceiling and hold it there with about 7/10 effort for 3 secs. Focus on the upwards stretch at the top of your toes.
Slowly, firmly and with good control stretch the the tip of the toe downwards and point towards the ground with 7/10 effort again & hold for 3 secs – this completes the 1st rep.
Repeat for 1 minute continuing to focus on balancing carefully while you stretch the toes up and down.
Repeat steps 1-4 on opposite leg. 1 minute each on left & right like this is a full set. Repeat 3-5 times total ( 6-10 minutes )
*The awesome thing about this exercise is that but stretching up/down leg you get to give your ankle an effective stretch. On the weight bearing side you simultaneously strengthen the stabilising muscles on a way that prevents future wear & tear in the arch & heel. That’s why you should do both sides.
*The perhaps unexpected bonus with this disarmingly simple exercise is that when we increase our strength/balance we also have an impact on the kind of weaknesses that have been shown to contribute to losing mobility prematurely in later life. The type of weakness that makes some 75 year old shuffle around slowly and painfully while others skip around the golf course.
Scar Tissue Self Care For Ankle Pain
*get a professional to diagnose your ankle pain properly before you do this. If you have gout of an infection for example this one isn’t adviseable.
Put some massage oil or baby oil on your ankle around where the sprain occurred.
Take a china soup spoon in your hand or preferably get loved one to do it.
Spend 5 minutes gently scraping the area in every direction and from every angle you can manage. Increase the pressure as much as you can bear when you find painful spots. A 6 or 7 out of 10 pain in sore spots should be perfectly safe and very beneficial.
*repeat this every second day to improve your ankle pain.
*Focal areas of pain are areas where adhesions have built up, give them special attention.
*If you have done a good job you should find that the whole ankle areas is nice and pink by the time you are done. That’s blood flow ! Blood flow is good !
* Test the movement of the ankle straight afterwards, it might feel better
* Be advised that if you have reached a point where there is significant scar tissue in your arch or heel it is unlikely that you will be able to address it completely with any single exercise and/or treatment approach.
*Also be advised that if you have stubborn pain you should always get it checked by a professional before you start using exercises for it without supervision.