Physical Therapy for the ankles

Editor’s note: “Focus on Fitness” is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Physical therapy can be an important part of recovery from accident or injury. P.T. can also be used for chronic problems with joints and muscles that are a result of long term wear and tear. Basically P.T. is used to improve the flexibility and strength of the muscles above and below the affected joint or area of pain. However, when you work with a physical therapist they will use other techniques and methods beyond the basics to help you with your recovery.


My first experience with a physical therapist was when I was having trouble with an ankle. I went to a foot surgeon thinking he could fix it. He said surgery is a last resort and prescribed physical therapy. The exercises I learned relieved the pain in my ankle. Soon I was doing the exercises with both ankles.

Over the years I have made modifications to the original ankle exercises I learned from the physical therapist. I learned the most efficient way to complete the exercises and it now takes me about two minutes to complete them with both ankles. If you have ankle pain you would like to ease or would simply like to reduce the risk of injury to your ankles, follow the instructions below.

You will need the following items: an old pair of shoes, five to six feet of exercise band or tubing, two snap clips, and athletic tape. Some pharmacies carry exercise bands or tubing in a variety of resistances. Snap clips can be found at hardware stores. Tie the ends of the band/tubing to each snap clip and pull tight to make sure the knots do not slip. Tie the shoes loosely (so you can slip them on) and leave about a four inch loop at the bottom of the laces. Make a few wraps of athletic tape around these loops. The tape will protect the laces when you attach the snap clips (see photo).

Wrap the tubing/band/clip assembly around a heavy table, other piece of furniture or place it through a wall anchor (eye bolt screwed into stud). It is imperative that what ever you attach this assembly to be secure; serious injury may occur if the band snaps back due to a poor attachment.

Attach the snap clips to the loop at the bottom of each shoe and scoot straight back until at desired resistance. Seated on your bottom with knees bent and heels on floor (toes up), rotate ankles out, then up, back down and repeat. Continue until you reach overload (burning in muscles), then rotate ankles in and up, then back down (until overload). Finally, flex ankles toward you and then back down (until overload). After six to eight weeks of doing these exercises you may work to failure (continue until you can’t do anymore reps).
It should take you about two minutes to complete these exercises. If it takes longer than this you need to increase resistance by scooting further back or getting a band with greater resistance. You may do these exercises every day but three to four days a week should be enough to gain the results you desire.

It is advisable to apply the concept of reversibility by doing exercises that work the muscles in the opposite range of motion. Heel drops or calf raises are a good choice. Stand on one foot on a stair and allow your heel to drop down, and then rise up onto the balls of your feet (repeat to overload). You may hold a weight on the same side you are working on for greater resistance. Be sure to work both sides.
It is important to maintain flexibility in the calf muscles. Stretch them after each strengthening session. A variety of stretches can be found online or in books.

Safety is of the utmost concern. It is important to check the exercise band/tubing and shoestrings before each use. If there are any nicks or frays replace them before using the exercise tool. Serious injury may occur if the band/tubing or shoestrings break. This exercise tool is not to be used by children unless supervised by an adult.
This exercise tool can be used to do exercises that will help with knee pain also, but an explanation of those exercises will have to wait until a future column.

Please remember that physical therapy is a complicated profession and this is only a basic example of how to help your ankle/foot pain. A therapist will use many other techniques when helping a patient. Proper footwear and quality insoles are also important in preventing foot pain. A custom made orthotic is best but there are many good over-the-counter options available. If you have had trouble with your feet in the past consult a physician before starting these exercises. If you experience pain while doing these exercises (sharp pain in the joint or feet) consult a physician before continuing them. “If it hurts, don’t do it” is a good rule to live by.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. Teacher and owns/operates Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. which specializes in P.E. consulting. He can be reached at


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