Exercises For the Ankle After Surgery

Doctors usually recommend a period of immobilization after ankle surgery, during which the involved bones, connective tissues and muscles atrophy, or get smaller and weaker. Performing exercises to restore flexibility and strength following this period is recommended. Consult with your physician before starting an exercise program, however, to make sure you are ready and to discuss which exercises are most appropriate under your circumstances.

Ankle manipulation
A physical therapist assists a young woman to rotate her ankle following surgery. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

Ankle Extension/Flexion

Restoring ankle extension and flexion ranges of motion is essential after ankle surgery to prepare you for typical daily activities again, including sitting down, standing on your tiptoes and walking. To perform the exercise, sit in a chair and extend your injured leg parallel to the floor. Extend your ankle by pointing your toes forward, then flex your ankle by moving your toes back toward your body as far as possible. Hold each stretch for at least five seconds. Perform the exercise up to 10 times each hour. If you're wearing a cast, even though you can't actually execute the movements, press against your cast in both directions to work your muscles isometrically.

Ankle Rolls

Ankle rolls help restore flexibility and range of motion. Start in the same position as the ankle extension/flexion exercise. Draw 10 circles clockwise, followed by 10 circles counterclockwise. Make the circles as big as possible, but make them smaller or stop if you feel pain. Complete several repetitions per day immediately after surgery if you don't have to wear a cast; otherwise, wait until your cast is removed. If you have to wear a protective boot, remove it several times a day to perform the exercise.

Resisted Ankle Extension/Flexion

After regaining range of motion in your ankle joint, add strengthening exercises to your post-operative rehabilitation program. You can use resistance bands to strengthen the muscles that extend and flex your ankles. Sit upright with your legs extended forward, heels on the floor and toes pointed upward. Loop the middle of a resistance band around the bottom of your injured foot and hold the ends close to your waist. Extend your ankles to stretch the band, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat. Second, attach one end of a band to a sturdy object, about 6 inches off the floor. Tie the other end around your injured foot and sit in the same position as the first exercise, far enough away from the object so the band is taut. Start with your ankle extended, then pull your toes toward your body to stretch the band. Extend your foot again, then repeat. Perform 30 repetitions of each exercise, twice each day.

Walking

Start walking as soon as your doctor allows. It will strengthen your ankle and improve cardiovascular health. Start by walking around your house, then around the block, and continue increasing the distance progressively over time. Walk on stable surfaces at first to keep from rolling your ankle or slipping. Try to move your ankle through a full range of motion as you walk, extending it as you push off the ground and flexing it before your heel strikes the ground again.

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