Looking for exercises for sprained ankle rehab? Or feeling like your ankles need strengthening? This unique ankle exercise is good for it all and will wake up muscles that aren’t often trained.
Improving ankle strength and mobility can help prevent painful sprains and make you feel more agile. This exercise combines both and takes your ankles through ranges and patterns you’ve probably never worked before.
A Different Approach
When it comes to ankle exercises, the vast majority of folks have probably only ever done calf raises, which involve the movement of plantarflexion.
Those a little more experienced may have been exposed to exercises to improve dorsiflexion, which is the movement of bringing your toes toward your knee. But even so, that means you’ve still likely never targeted 2 key motions at the ankle/foot – inversion and eversion.
Ankle Positions: Inversion (Left) and Eversion (Right)
The sagittal plane movements of dorsiflexion and plantarflexion occur at the talocrural joint – the joint formed between your tibia, fibula, and talus, a domed bone of your ankle. The talocrural joint is considered the true ankle joint .
However, there’s another joint just below called the subtalar joint – formed between your talus and your calcaneus (or heel bone), so it’s basically a foot joint and one of many.
The subtalar joint works with other joints of your foot to allow for the frontal plane movements of inversion (when you rotate the sole of your foot in towards midline) and eversion (when you rotate it out laterally).
Image by www.sciencedirect.com
Traditional sprained ankle rehab tends to ignore subtalar movements and instead focuses on talocrural movements. But for optimal rehabilitation your foot and ankle need to be trained to to move effectively in all planes of motion.
In fact, the majority of ankle sprains occur due to improper motion in the frontal plane and involve movement at the subtalar joint – you “roll” too far onto the outside (or sometimes inside) of your ankle.
Even if you aren’t dealing with a sprained ankle, it’s important to train these movements to prevent this painful and long rehab process.
Your feet and ankles provide a ton of proprioceptive data to your brain about where you are in space. But most people’s feet are stuck in stiff shoes all day long – shoes that take over the role of providing support for your body.
Over time, this can result in atrophy of the intrinsic muscles of your feet , subtalar joints that are stiff and immobile, and really crappy proprioceptive data to your brain. This equals weak and stiff feet and ankles that are more prone to injury.
So whether it’s for sprained ankle rehab or “pre-hab”, get ready to learn the most unique ankle exercise you’ve ever done.
Unique Sprained Ankle Rehab Exercise
This exercise is a dissociation technique – a concept I teach a lot in my Precision Movement Courses. These techniques involve generating a ton of muscle activation and challenging your brain and your body to break old habitual movement patterns.
At the ankle, eversion is typically paired with dorsiflexion and inversion is typically paired with plantarflexion. Try it and see – I bet when you try to roll the sole of your foot out, your toes come up towards your shin and when you roll the sole in, your toes pointed down.
We are going to shake that habit up and get the muscles crossing your ankle really active and firing in new patterns. This will help protect your ankle joint and provide stability, while also challenging your range of motion and increasing mobility.
- With a straight leg, invert your right foot so the sole rotates inwards. Maintain this inversion while you dorsiflex, so the toes pull up to your shin.
- Hold it for 20-30 seconds, as if you were pointing the area at the base of your big toe (the metatarsal head) up and to the right and the bottom of your pinky toe down and to the left.
- Relax and then evert your foot so the sole rotates outward. Add in plantar flexion to point the toes down.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds and imagine twisting the foot so the base of the big toe goes down and out and the base of the pinky toe goes up and in.
- Complete 3-5 reps then repeat on the other side.
Make sure you breathe throughout this movement and really concentrate.
Don’t be surprised if you feel some cramping – you’re asking muscles that are used to being shut off and stuck in shoes to move in an entirely new, challenging way. Just focus on activating the muscles and breathing through it.
This exercise for strengthening ankles and feet is challenging, but worth it. So stick with it if you’re finding it hard to dissociate the movements at first.
If you keep it up, you can help increase both your subtalar and talocrural mobility, wake up the muscles of your feet and ankles, increase the quality of proprioceptive data to your brain, and either help protect yourself from future ankle sprains or recover from a previous injury.
So whether it’s for sprained ankle rehab or not, we can all benefit from this one.
And if you’re curious about other creative ways to improve the function of your ankles, feet, or knees, check out my Lower Limb Control course.