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Physical therapy for a sprained ankle

Four physical therapy exercises to help recover from an ankle sprain are a 4-way ankle stretch, ABCs, clam shells, and balance challenge exercises.

Ankle sprains are common injuries that can occur for many reasons. During the winter months, slippery and icy sidewalks can make it hard to walk around the sidewalks in Washington, DC. Other factors that can lead to ankle sprains include various jumping tasks, playing sports, or even just walking on uneven surfaces.

The most common way people sprain their ankle occurs with ankle inversion, or when the ankle rolls with the bottom of the foot going towards the middle. This can jeopardize ligaments on the outer aspect of the ankle making the ankle bruise, swell, and give the person sensations of instability. It is important to rest and ice the ankle to help with the initial symptoms that will present following an ankle sprain, and physical therapy can play a critical role in getting you back to action.

Physical therapy perspective for treating an ankle sprain

When we evaluate a client with an ankle sprain, it is important to examine their strength and range of motion. Ankle sprains are graded in severity based on the amount of tissue that is torn. The severity of the sprain determines treatment.

For a very serious strain there is no choice but to rest the ankle and reevaluate as time passes, but this does not mean you cannot do physical therapy at the same time while your ankle heals. Your Rose physical therapist will work to strengthen the muscles and joints surrounding the ankle so that when you are ready to strengthen the ankle itself, your body is strong enough to do it.

If you are not sure about the grade of your strain, that is okay. The key decision is, if you cannot return to action within a couple of days, it may be time to schedule an appointment at Rose Physical Therapy.

Four physical therapy exercises for rehabbing a sprained ankle

After the ankle is ready for physical therapy, you Rose physical therapist will incorporate new exercises into your rehabilitation program, evaluating how you respond and adjusting as necessary. Here are four exercises that your physical therapist at Rose may incorporate into rehabilitating your sprained ankle:

  • 4-way ankle exercises: Use a resistance band to strengthen the ankle’s supporting muscles in its four directions: plantarflexion, dorsiflexion, inversion, and eversion.


  • ABCs: This is a non-weightbearing range of motion exercise that consist of moving your ankle into the letters of the alphabet. It can be done while laying down or sitting, making it an exercise that is very feasible to do throughout the day.


  • Clam shells: Start by laying on your side and bend your knees, but keep them stacked. From this position, lift your top knee off of your bottom knee, but avoid rotating your hips. This is a glute strengthening exercise. Research has shown that increasing glute strength can help with ankle stability.


  • Balance: Balance is a key part of rehabbing ankles. Start with single leg balance using the other leg as a “kickstand” to decrease the demand placed on the injured ankle. From this point, try to perform traditional single leg balance. Once you have mastered balance on a single leg, the next step is to challenge your balance by changing the surface (using an Airex balance pad) and/or closing your eyes.


Rose Physical Therapy is here in Washington, DC to help!

If you have an ankle sprain that is not getting better within two days, or if you have any questions at all, please reach out and schedule an appointment at one of our Washington, DC locations. We have two convenient locations in Washington D.C., one downtown between Farragut Square and Dupont Circle in Northwest DC, and one in the Capitol Riverfront adjacent the Navy Yard and only a few blocks from Capitol Hill. With many skilled physical therapists at Rose Physical Therapy, we’re here to help get you back on your…ankles….feet!