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Foot and Ankle Exercise Guide

Purpose of Foot and Ankle Exercise Rehabilitation

Your feet and ankles must bear your body weight your entire life. Exercising the feet and ankles helps keep them stable and strong, and to walk, run, balance and climb stairs, among many other functions. The major muscles, tendons and ligaments in the ankles and feet that help you maintain stability, posture and promote movement include the plantar fascia, the posterior tibial tendon, the Achilles tendon and the extensor tendons found on the top of the foot.

Benefits of Exercise and Physical Therapy

  • Range of motion
  • Strengthening
  • Increased endurance
  • Increase function and mobility

Range of Motion

There are two types of range of motion exercise:

  • Active - Performed by you
  • Passive - Performed by a physical therapist

Perform exercises as instructed by your doctor or therapist, depending on your condition and strength.

Range of Motion Exercises for the Foot and Ankle

A passive range of motion exercise for the ankle and foot involves the therapist grasping your foot, supporting the ankle. The therapist may grasp the top of your foot and gently rotate the ankle in a clockwise and counterclockwise motion, which serves to strengthen and loosen the ankle joint. Holding onto the ankle, the therapist may also gently press backward against the top of the foot in a flexion exercise, then press downward on the top of the foot in a flexion exercise. Passive range of motion may also involve the therapist curling your toes downward toward the bottom of your foot and using the fingers to spread the toes apart, and then bring them together. You can also perform active foot and ankle exercises like ankle bends. Press your toes down into the floor, and then lift your heel high off the floor. Then keep your heel planted firmly into the floor and lift your toes as high as you can.

Strengthening Foot and Ankle Exercises

Follow instructions or guidance by your doctor or physical therapist before engaging in strengthening or weight-bearing exercise, especially following illness or surgery. Strengthen the calf, the Achilles tendon and your toes by performing a calf lift. Stand with your feet flat on the floor and then lift your body weight upward using only your feet, ankle and calf muscles. Hold the position for several seconds and then release.

Flexibility Foot and Ankle Exercises

Flexibility helps keep your hip joint strong and limber, and enhances range of motion. You can do flexibility exercises while sitting, standing or lying down. When possible, use exercise tools like resistance bands or tubes to help with stretching and flexibility exercises. When stretching, only go as far as comfortable. Your range of motion and flexibility will increase with practice. Some flexibility and stretching hip exercises for the hips include: A gentle stretching exercise for the foot and ankle can be done by sitting on the floor, legs extended in front of you. Slightly bend your knees if you have to, so that you can reach out and grab your toes or the balls of the feet with your hands. Gently pull your feet toward you, and then point your toes away from you. Then circle your ankles in a clockwise, then counterclockwise movement, and then repeat the stretching exercise.