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Physical Therapy for Ankle Sprain – Information, Exercises, and More

You didn’t see the curb on the end of the sidewalk. 

One wrong step and your ankle twists.

The searing pain you are experiencing in your ankle could be a symptom of an ankle sprain.

In this guide, we’ll go over the how and why of ankle sprains and whether ankle sprain physical therapy is the treatment you need.



What Is an Ankle Sprain?

When it comes to musculoskeletal injuries, sprained ankles are the most common injury seen by physicians for both children and adults.

A sprained ankle is an injury that can happen when your ligaments become stretched beyond their range of motion due to your ankle twisting or rolling into an awkward position.

The ligaments around your ankle joint are like safety belts. Their job is to stabilize the joint and prevent excessive movement. 

Damage to these ligaments can range from mild discomfort to severe pain if the ligaments are torn. 

Ankle Sprain Grades

The severity of an ankle sprain injury is measured by three ankle sprain grades: 

  • Grade 1: The ligaments could be stretched or have a mild tear. There is minimal pain with walking and mild tenderness and swelling.
  • Grade 2: There is an incomplete ligament tear with moderate pain. Walking is painful and there is a moderate amount of swelling, tenderness, and bruising.
  • Grade 3: There is a complete tear of the affected ligaments, and walking is not possible without intense pain. The ankle is severely swollen and bruised.

What Causes an Ankle Sprain?

A sprained ankle can occur anytime the ligaments in the ankle joint become stressed. 

You can sprain your ankle simply by taking a wrong step when running or walking or doing more physically demanding activities like sports.

Let’s take a look at four common causes of sprained ankle injuries.

Repetitive Motion

Any kind of repetitive injury can cause a risk of a sprained ankle. 

You can minimize your risk of spraining an ankle by doing the following:

  • Wearing proper footwear when walking long distances or exercising
  • Avoiding exercise on uneven surfaces


You tripped on the last stair step and felt a twinge of pain in your ankle. 

Your ankle is likely sprained. 

Any fall that results in the ankle joint twisting or rolling into an awkward position can cause a sprained ankle. 


Chances are that if you have played sports, you have probably twisted your ankle. 

One study showed a 73% recurrence rate in ankle sprains among athletes with 59% percent of athletes suffering from residual symptoms that impaired their athletic performance. 

Ankle sprains typically happen during sports when suddenly changing direction or landing on the ankle wrong after jumping. 


Ankle injuries can occur anytime the ligaments in the ankle joint become stressed from unnatural movement. 

Traumatic occurrences, like the foot becoming trapped under an object or being injured during a car accident, can result in an ankle sprain.

Ankle Sprain Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the injury, ankle sprain symptoms can vary.

If you have an ankle sprain, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms: 

  • Tenderness with touch
  • Pain — especially when walking or bearing weight
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Ankle instability
  • Hearing or feeling a popping sensation when the injury occurred

It is important to rule out other foot and ankle injuries. Be sure to consult with your doctor about your symptoms.

Ankle Sprain Treatment

The severity of your ankle sprain may dictate which treatment is right for you. 

Mild ankle sprains may only require self-care, while severe sprains can require more drastic measures like surgery.

Let’s look at some of the options for ankle sprain treatment. 

Home Care

For mild ankle sprains, you may be able to self-treat at home using the R.I.C.E method:

  • Rest: Do not participate in activities that cause you pain or swelling.
  • Ice: In two to three-hour intervals, apply ice to the ankle for 15-20 minutes. Note: Consult your doctor before applying ice if you have diabetes or any type of vascular disease.
  • Compression: Wrap the ankle with an elastic bandage to help stop the swelling process. Avoid wrapping the bandage too tightly as you don’t want to constrict blood flow to your foot.
  • Elevation: Elevate your foot above your heart to help reduce swelling.


Taking anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce swelling and pain in your ankle joint. 


Based on the severity of your ankle sprain, your doctor may recommend using some of the following devices:

  • Mobility devices like crutches if walking/bearing weight is too painful
  • Sports tape or an ankle brace to help stabilize the joint
  • A cast or walking boot to stabilize the ankle if the injury is severe

Physical Therapy

Once you can bear weight with minimal pain, and the swelling has subsided, your doctor may prescribe ankle sprain physical therapy. 

Physical therapy for an ankle sprain can help strengthen the ankle joint by retraining muscles to support the joint and avoid recurring sprains.


In severe cases where the ankle sprain has caused a complete tear in one of the supporting ligaments and ankle sprain physical therapy is not enough, surgery may be required. 

Surgery may fix the following situations: 

  • A damaged ligament that won’t heal properly
  • A torn ligament that requires reconstruction

Ankle Sprain Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

The answer is yes.

One study showed that people with a high level of activity, such as exercising three or more times a week, can increase the risk of residual symptoms or re-injury.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop working out or change your busy lifestyle to avoid spraining an ankle. 

Ankle sprain physical therapy directly targets the muscles around your ankle to increase the strength and stability in the joint to help prevent re-injury.

Physical Therapy Exercises for a Sprained Ankle

There are a variety of exercises aimed at strengthening the ankle joint.

Before completing any exercises to treat an ankle sprain, it is highly recommended that you meet with a Doctor of Physical Therapy to outline a customized treatment plan. 

Here are four different types of ankle sprain physical therapy exercises that may be recommended by a PT:

Range of Motion Exercises

This type of exercise is commonly the first step on your road to recovery. 

Some range-of-motion exercises that may be recommended by your PT include:

  1. Towel curls: Sit in a chair and place your foot on a towel on the floor. Using your toes, scrunch the towel toward you and then push the towel away from you. As you gain more strength, you can add weight to the towel.
  2. Alphabet tracing: Use your foot to trace the alphabet 1 to 3 times. This encourages you to move your ankle in all directions.

Range of motion exercises can help to restore the range of motion in your ankle to a normal standard. 

Stretching Exercises

Stretching the Achilles tendon is an important part of restoring stability to the ankle joint.

Some stretching exercises that your PT may recommend include:

  • Calf stretch: In the standing position, face the wall with your hands on the wall at eye level. Place your stretching leg about one step behind your other leg while keeping your heel on the floor. Bend your front knee until you feel a stretch in the back leg and hold for about 15 to 30 seconds. 
  • Towel stretch: in the sitting position, put your legs out in front of you and place a rolled towel under the ball of your foot. Holding the towel at both ends, keep your leg straight, and gently pull the towel toward you. Hold for about 15- to 30 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times.

By stretching the Achilles tendon, you can significantly reduce your chances of re-injury.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises typically begin when you can withstand completing the exercises without increased pain.

Some strengthening exercises that may be recommended by your PT include:

1. In the sitting position, put your injured foot flat on the floor and push it outward against an immovable object, like heavy furniture or the wall. Hold for six seconds, then relax.

Once you are comfortable with this exercise, try using an exercise band or rubber tubing looped around the outside of your feet to create resistance. Move your foot side to side against the tubing and hold for 10 seconds on each side.

2. In the sitting position, put your feet flat on the floor and press your injured foot inward toward your other foot. Then, place the heel of your uninjured foot on top of the injured foot and push down with the top of the heel while trying to push up with your injured foot. Hold each of these for 6 seconds and then relax.

These exercises aim to strengthen the muscles around your ankle joint that help support and keep it in place. Try doing 8 to 12 repetitions once or twice a day for up to 4 weeks.

Balance Exercises

Once you can withstand bearing weight without pain, you may begin working on exercises that pertain to balance and control.

Some balance exercises that may be recommended by your PT include:

  1. While standing on the injured foot, hold your arms out to the side with your eyes open. If you feel unsteady at first, do this exercise in a doorway for additional support. Work toward holding the position for 60 seconds. You can switch to holding your arms across your chest once you reach 60 seconds. 
  2. Now, try the same exercise as above, but this time close your eyes. Continue to use the doorway for added support until you can hold the position for 60 seconds. From there, hold your arms across your chest and repeat the above exercise with your eyes closed. Practice until you have reached 60 seconds.

These types of exercises help restore balance and joint control to help prevent re-injury and should be practiced once a day for six repetitions each.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With an Ankle Sprain Physical Therapy

As the #1 rated physical therapy clinic on Yelp and Google, In Motion O.C. has helped hundreds of people like you recover with the help of ankle sprain physical therapy.

You don’t have to stop doing activities you love to prevent ankle sprain injury. Contact us at one of our state-of-the-art locations to request a free screening

We are here to help you restore strength to your ankle joint and help prevent re-injury so you can continue living your best life.


The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

In Motion O.C.