No matter if it's a strain, sprain, or tendonitis, an ankle injury can make us reluctant to move the joint or put weight on it. In many cases, they can also stiffen surrounding muscles and cause inflammation that leaves less space for movement. These three things combined create a sort of perfect storm: your ankle becomes weaker, less stable, and less mobile. So, how do you restore your ankle mobility after injury?
See a specialist
Getting advice from a physiotherapist or osteopath should always be the first step. Along with giving you an accurate diagnosis, they can help you mobilise the joint through manual adjustments and massaging tensed muscles. They’ll also be able to recommend key next steps, from braces to a set exercise plan.
Next, start moving. Movement is fundamental to injury recovery, but injury makes us reluctant to move. Not using your ankle for an extended time can actually make the injury worse. It’ll lead to more pain, weakness, and stiffness as the muscles and other soft tissues grow deconditioned to support your weight, leading to reduced ankle mobility.
We’re not saying leap headlong back into your everyday activities or take up a new sport while you’re still dealing with an ankle sprain. But you can start wandering around the house, going for a short walk around the block, or going grocery shopping. These steps will help recondition your ankle and slowly work up its mobility.
If you’re unsure on your feet, want extra support, or have a more intense ankle injury, you should also add a brace to your routine. A good, medical-grade brace like the MaleoTrain Plus combines compression knit, silicon pads, and a figure 8 strap. These will:
- Help relieve pain so you’re more confident in using the joint
- Activate key muscle groups to help recondition them for movement
- Relieve swelling that may be affecting mobility
- and help stabilise the joint.
Please note, however, your chosen brace needs to have quality materials and fit you perfectly. Mass-produced neoprene braces won’t offer the same protection. Your brace should also ideally be designed for your injury type. The MalleoTrain Plus, for example, is a great brace for ligament sprain. But for Achilles Tendonitis, we’d recommend the AchilloTrain Pro as it has padding and cushioning to alleviate strain and pain for that specific tendon.
And no: a quality ankle brace won't make you dependent on it. Muscles weaken because of a lack of movement, and as your brace helps you move, it will actually help maintain your muscle strength. Not to mention, medical grade compression improves your ability to activate your muscles.
Learn more: Do Ankle Braces Actually Help?
Exercises to restore ankle mobility
The next step toward restoring your ankle mobility after an injury is to do some exercises. These will help make your ankle stronger, more flexible, and less stiff. They'll also help you recondition damaged and surrounding tissues.
This exercise gently mobilises every part of your ankle joint. You can do this exercise while sitting in a chair or laying down. If you’re in a chair, raise your injured ankle off the floor. If you’re laying down or sitting on the floor, make sure your ankle hangs off a ledge, like a stair or your mattress.
- Rotate your ankle clockwise ten times
- Rotate your ankle counterclockwise ten times
- Throughout this exercise, you should only move your foot and ankle, not your leg.
Start with small circles and slowly work your way up, keeping an eye on your comfort levels. While this is a gentle exercise, it can still pull at injured tissues. And the last thing you want is to inadvertently re-injure your ankle.
This exercise targets the plantar and dorsiflexion of your ankles - that is, how much you can point your toes downward and upward.
- Sit upright on a chair.
- Position your feet on the floor so your toes and ankles align with your kneecaps.
- Without taking your toes off the floor, raise your heel as far as is comfortable and return to the starting position.
- Without taking your heels off the floor, flex your toes and the ball of your foot as far as is comfortable.
- Repeat the toe-to-heel rocking motion 10-15 times.
As with ankle rotations, mind your comfort levels, especially if you’re recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.
Inversion and Eversion Stretch
This exercise targets the sides of your ankle joint, working the peroneal and tibialis muscles and tendons, which control the inward outward roll of your foot.
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out before you. Your heels should be hanging off a ledge (like a stair) to allow for more freedom of movement.
- Without moving your knees, slowly rotate your feet so the soles point toward each other.
- Return to the starting position.
- Without moving your knees, slowly rotate your feet so that the soles point away from each other.
- Do 20 reps
Single Leg Balance
For this exercise, all you need to do is stand one leg for 20 seconds while maintaining balance. Standing on one leg will help strengthen and stabilise your ankle, which is especially important after ligament injuries like sprains. This exercise will also indirectly help with mobility, as the stronger your muscles are, the less likely they are to fatigue and tense up.
Heat packs, heat mats, and even warm baths will help relieve muscle tension around the affected joint. Heat the joint for around 15 minutes at a time a couple of times a day. Just remember that the heat pack shouldn’t be too hot, and you shouldn’t use heat therapy on injuries younger than 3 days.
TO SUM UP
Ankle injuries tend to cause swelling, pain, and muscle stiffness, all of which negatively affect the joints' mobility. Fortunately, through key steps like bracing, physical activity, and physiotherapy, you can get your joint (and yourself) moving properly again. Just remember that the ankle joint does a lot of work in carrying your body weight through all kinds of movements and exercises, so it’s important that you don’t rush the rehab process to avoid further injury.
See our full range of medical ankle braces: Medical Ankle Supports
If you require assistance selecting the right product for your needs or wearing the brace, call us on 1300 668 466 or contact us via live chat.
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