How Long Should You Wait to Exercise a Sprained Ankle?

If you start ankle exercises too soon or progress exercises too quickly following an ankle sprain, you could cause more damage and delay your recovery. Ankle sprain rehabilitation is divided into three phases. Knowing these phases will help you determine when to start ankle exercises and what exercises are appropriate.

Range-of-motion exercises reduce stiffness after ankle sprain. (Image: PORNCHAI SODA/iStock/GettyImages)

The severity of your ankle sprain and your symptoms, such as swelling and pain, will influence your rehabilitation timeline. Consult a physical therapist or athletic trainer for guidance.

Tip

Range-of-motion exercises often begin soon after an ankle sprain.

Sprained Ankle Symptoms

Sprained ankle symptoms vary based on the severity of the injury. An ankle sprain occurs when one or more ligaments become stretched or torn, and it may be categorized as a grade I, II or III sprain. Grade I is a mild sprain when ankle ligaments are overstretched but not torn. Grade II is when ligaments partially tear, and grade III is a complete rupture or tear of one or more ligaments.

Early Ankle Sprain Rehab

The goal of early ankle sprain rehab is to reduce swelling and pain. This phase can last between one and seven days after your ankle sprain. Rest, applying ice and wearing an elastic bandage during this time are necessary. For grade III ankle sprains, wearing a walking boot or using crutches is also necessary.

Elevating your ankle above your heart and taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen, can further reduce swelling. Most exercises will be too painful to perform during this phase, with the possible exception of isometric exercises. Isometric ankle exercises involve pushing your foot in a given direction against resistance, such as a wall, but not moving your ankle.

Intermediate Rehab Phase

The intermediate phase of ankle rehab exercises may begin after the first 72 hours or when your swelling and pain start to subside. The duration of this phase is between one and three weeks, depending on the severity of your ankle sprain.

During this phase, you will perform light ankle exercises to increase ankle flexibility and strength. Exercises include ankle circles, marble pickup, single-leg balance and heel walking. For marble pickup, slowly pick up marbles using your toes and place them in a container while seated in a chair.

Perform exercises several times daily. To maintain cardiovascular fitness, bike, swim or aqua-jog three to five days a week.

Final Rehab Phase

The final phase of ankle sprain rehab begins after you have regained normal ankle flexibility and have improved ankle strength and stability. The duration of this phase varies from a few days for a grade I ankle sprain to a couple of weeks for a grade III sprain.

During this phase, perform sport-specific or functional exercises that are similar to your daily activities and exercises while still incorporating phase two exercises. For example, you may run for two to five minutes, perform a quick agility drill and then perform single-leg balance on a wobble board.

Ankle rehab exercises ease you back into your normal exercise routine without re-injury. Because of this, functional or sport-specific exercises are initially performed only two to three days a week, not on consecutive days.

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