The ankle is a weight-bearing joint that consists of various bones, tendons, and ligaments. Together, these structures carry the weight of the body while allowing a person to move. Ankle strengthening exercises can help people with pain, injury, or mobility problems.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of ankle strengthening exercises and provide a list of exercises to help keep the ankles strong and healthy.
Tight or weak ankle muscles can increase the risk of injury to the bones and ligaments. They can also cause pain and problems with mobility.
Tight or stiff ankles can affect a person’s mobility. Most people with stiff ankles have greater difficulty bending the foot upward than downward. People with this type of ankle stiffness may have difficulty walking uphill or keeping the feet pointing straight ahead while walking.
Ankle stiffness can occur as a result of the natural aging process. Other possible causes include:
- congenital abnormalities of the ankle bone or cartilage
- abnormally high or low arches, which can lead to excessive ankle wear and tear
- previous ankle injury, such as an ankle sprain
- inflammation of one or more ankle tendons, due to overuse, injury, or disease
- a bone spur or bone fragment that blocks the movement of the ankle joint
- a buildup of scar tissue blocking the movement of the ankle joint
- chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and lupus
Weak ankles increase the risk of ankle injuries, such as ankle sprains. Some people are born with weak ankles, whereas others develop them as a result of a previous injury.
People who have weak ankles may find that their ankles are sore or give way while they are standing or walking.
Some potential benefits of ankle strengthening exercises include:
- Preventing injuries: Strengthening the muscles around the ankles helps reduce pressure on the ankle joint, which can help prevent injuries.
- Improving bone density: Strengthening exercises help increase bone density. An increased bone density reduces the risk of degenerative bone diseases, such as osteoarthritis.
- Improving balance: Strong ankle muscles should improve balance. Good balance is important to many sports and exercises. It will also reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
Below is a list of exercises and stretches that may help improve the strength and mobility of the ankles. A person can perform these exercises at home without the need for specialist fitness equipment.
The towel stretch will stretch the muscles in the lower legs and ankles.
To perform a towel stretch, follow these steps:
- Sit with both legs straight out in front.
- Wrap a towel around the top of the foot, holding the towel at either end.
- Gently pull the towel so that the toes angle back toward the body.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds, and then release for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the stretch 3 times, and then switch to the opposite side.
The calf raise will also stretch the muscles in the legs and ankles.
To perform a calf raise, follow these steps:
- Stand on a slightly raised platform, such as a step.
- Keep the balls of the feet on the surface of the platform, letting the heels hang off the back.
- Push up with the toes so that the heels raise above the surface.
- Let the heels fall back down to just below the surface.
- Repeat the stretch several times.
Towel curls also stretch the muscles in the feet and ankles.
To perform towel curls:
- Sit with both feet flat on the ground.
- Place a towel under one foot.
- Curl the toes to grip the towel and lift it off the ground.
- Hold it for a couple of seconds before releasing it.
- Repeat with the opposite foot.
The ankle alphabet will help stretch the muscles around the ankle and improve the range of motion in the ankle joint.
To perform the ankle alphabet:
- Sit with one leg extended out in front.
- Place a pillow under the calf so that the foot hangs over the other side.
- Use the big toe to draw the letters of the alphabet in the air.
- Repeat the exercise several times on each side.
The toe pull stretches the muscles in the legs and ankles.
To perform the toe pull:
- Sit in a chair and raise one leg off the ground, keeping it straight.
- Slowly point the toes back toward the body.
- Hold the position for a couple of seconds.
- Release the toes and gently lower the leg back to the ground.
- Repeat several times with each leg.
Standing heel raise
Standing heel raises stretch the muscles in the ankles and legs.
To perform a standing heel raise:
- Stand with the feet just wider than the shoulders.
- Place the hands on the thighs and bend the knees slightly.
- Lift one heel, keeping the toes on the ground, and then slowly lower it back down again.
- Repeat this exercise several times for each heel.
Golf ball roll
The golf ball roll stretches the muscles in the feet and ankles.
To perform the golf ball roll:
- Sit on a chair and place a golf ball under the foot. Any ball of a similar size will work.
- Slowly roll the foot up and down over the ball for a minute.
- Repeat the exercise using the other foot.
Tight or weak ankle muscles can cause pain and problems with mobility. These issues may also increase the risk of injury to the bones, tendons, and ligaments of the ankle.
Stretching and strengthening the ankle muscles helps improve ankle joint mobility and reduces the risk of injury. It may also help increase bone density, thereby reducing the risk of degenerative bone diseases.
People should aim to incorporate ankle strengthening exercises into their regular workout routine. Those with existing ankle problems can talk to a doctor or physical therapist for more tailored information and advice.