Strengthening exercises for the foot and ankle can help prevent injuries and can speed recovery from an injury. Balancing exercises are good to help strengthen the ankles. Stop any weight-bearing exercises if you experience pain. Here are nine exercise options. My favorite is number five.
- Sit in a chair and write the alphabet with your toes to simulate ankle motion in all directions.
- Stand on one foot on a pillow or similar soft and unstable cushion and try to maintain your balance, first with one foot and then the other. As your ability to balance increases, move into short controlled up and down knee bends.
- Move the ankle up and down in a pumping motion to help decrease swelling.
- Rotate your feet up to 50 repetitions in each direction. Do four to five sets every other day.
- Strengthen your ankles by balancing with one foot flat on the ground and the other leg bent back at the knee, as if you were in the normal support phase of a running stride. Start at 30 seconds at a time and practice until you can hold your balance for several minutes. When you have mastered this step, close your eyes and do the same thing. Repeatedly losing your balance and then recovering gradually strengthens the ankles even more. Doing this exercise with your eyes closed retrains you to quickly react to changes as your nerve endings detect a twist or turn when the foot hits the ground.
- Stand on one leg and slowly rise all the way up onto your toes and then slowly lower your heel to a flat foot. Balance yourself as necessary. Start with 25 repetitions and work up to 50 daily. This is another good proprioception exercise.
- Stand with your forefeet on a raised surface, a few inches is fine, and rise up onto your toes and then back down again. Hold each, at the top and at the bottom, for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat until both calves are fatigued.
- An isometric exercise done in a sitting position with the feet pushing against each other helps strengthen muscles without joint movement. Push down with one foot on top while pulling up with the other foot on the bottom. Then reverse feet. You can also put your feet bottom-to-bottom, first pushing the big toes against each other and then the small toes against each other. Hold the motions for six to ten seconds and repeat several times a day.
- Hop on one foot and then change to the other foot. Practice forward and backward, and side to side movements.