Patient Education: Physical Therapy Guide

Physical Therapy and Exercises for the Ankle

You may be prescribed a number of physical therapy exercises. Physical therapy is simply an exercise program that gently stretches and strengthens specific muscles and joints. The exercises you may perform are designed to restore movement and strength to your joint and to promote blood flow for healing.

It is important to stay proactive in your physical therapy since it can have a direct impact on the ultimate outcome of your surgery. Remember to stay diligent and don’t give up. Ask for help if you need it. Friends, family members, and even neighbors can be helpful during your recovery, especially if you ask for their assistance before your surgery.

Physical therapy plays a very important role in the recovery process. A physical therapist may demonstrate a variety of low-impact exercises. You should only perform the exercises that are ordered by your surgeon.

The exercises are each designed to accomplish a specific goal. Some of the goals include:

ALL EXERCISES SHOULD BE ONLY PERFORMED AS INSTRUCTED BY YOUR SURGEON, AFTER PROPER DEMONSTRATION BY A PHYSICAL THERAPIST.

The following are examples of range of motion exercises that your surgeon may prescribe.

 

Toe Circles
Move your ankle through its entire range of motion (up and down, in and out, and in circles).
Alphabet exercise
While sitting with your leg extended in front of you try to write the alphabet in the air with your big toe. Hold your leg up or prop it up on a pillow. Move only your foot when going through the motions.

 


The following are examples of Ankle Flexibility exercises that your surgeon may prescribe.

 

Sitting Towel Stretch
While sitting with your leg extended in front of you hold a rolled up towel looped around the pad of your foot (just below the toes). Gently pull back until you feel the stretch in the back of your ankle. Hold the towel for 45 seconds then release. Repeat as prescribed.
Standing Achilles tendon stretch
  • Stand about an arm length away from a stable object (wall, etc.).
  • Lean forward and place both hands on the object at shoulder width.
  • Extend the ankle to be stretched behind you. Your knee should be bent and your heel should be on the ground.
  • Lean towards the wall while moving your hips downward. Keep bending your ankle until you feel the stretch and then hold it there for 30 seconds.
  • This should not cause any discomfort. If you feel any pain you should take the pressure off your ankle and wait a few seconds before trying again.

 


The following are examples of strengthening exercises that your surgeon may prescribe.

 

Towel lifts
This exercise should be done barefoot. While leaning back against a wall toss a towel on the ground in front of you. Reach out with your foot and grab the towel as best you can with your toes. Hold it in your toes and drag it towards you until it’s against the wall. Reverse the process to drag it back out to its starting position.
Elastic resistance exercises
If you have access to elastic resistance material (ask your physical therapist for more information) you can use it to provide gentle resistance to movement. Try to resist movement up/down and in/out.
Isometrics
With a stable object (post, table leg, etc.), use your foot to apply pressure up/down and in/out. Hold each position for 5-10 seconds.
Step exercises
Using a step or other raised structure, step upwards while focusing on using the muscles of the foot and ankle. Reverse the process by turning around and stepping down in the same manner.
Heel/Toe walking
For 15-25 seconds walk on your toes and then for the same period walk on your heels with your toes held up off the ground. The first day try it a few times for 1-2 minutes. Over time you can work your way up to 5-10 minutes.

 


The following are examples of balance exercises that your surgeon may prescribe.

 

Single leg balancing
Simply balance on one foot for 15-30 seconds. It helps to fix your eyes on a stationary object. Once you get the hang of it try it with your eyes closed.
Single leg squat
This is a lot like the single leg balancing exercise. While balancing on one leg bend your knee to sink lower to the ground and then stand back up. Stand within arms reach of a wall or other stable object.
Lateral Step
Standing with a step or other raised structure next to you, step sideways up and then back down while focusing on using the muscles of the foot and ankle. Make sure to exercise both your left and right foot to gain the most benefit.

 

All patient education materials are provided by OrthoPatientEd.com and have been reviewed by our Advisory Board of leading Orthopedic Surgeons to ensure accuracy. All materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your orthopedic surgeon. Any medical decisions should be made after consulting a qualified physician.

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