What to do with a sprained ankle? Return to sports and rehabilitation program:

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

What to do with a sprained ankle? should I return to sports immediately?


Having sustained a sprained ankle injury during sports, remove yourself from the exercises. Take off your shoes, socks, or tape from the injured foot. If you are suffering from severe sprained with excessive pain, swelling, obviously noticeable difference in the amount of ankle movement compared with the unaffected ankle, and unable to bear weight, DO NOT return to exercise. If you suspect a fracture, splint your ankle, do not weight bearing on your injured foot, and visit nearby medical service.


When your sprained ankle is stable without excessive pain, swelling, able to bearing weight, and you wish to return to participation in sports, you should be able to:

  1. Run forward

  2. Run backward

  3. Hop

  4. Run and cut

  5. Run in a figure of eight pattern at normal speed without limping.


Before returning to participation in sports, protective tape should be applied. After exercises, re-evaluated your ankle and visit medical practitioners for proper treatment.


What to do with a sprained ankle? Rehabilitation stages and exercises:


The purpose of ankle rehabilitation is to:

  1. Prevent stiffness of the ankle joint, possibly results from poorly treated injury.

  2. Increase the strength of the muscles around the ankle joint.

  3. Regained balance or proprioceptive feedback that frequently impaired after injury.


In the following paragraph, we will provide an example of a rehabilitation program that contains 5 stages. The timing of starting different stages of the rehabilitation program depended on the severity of your injury. For mild injury, you can begin gentle exercise within 24 hours, while for severe injury, exercises could delay perhaps 5 to 7 days. The general principles are:


1. Exercises are guided by pain (NO severe pain should be elicited during and after workouts).


2. You should complete each stage without pain before progress to the next stage, e.g.:

  • Walk before attempting heel-raises

  • Heel raises before hopping

  • Hop before jumping rope

  • Jump rope before jogging

  • Jog before splinting, running, and cutting



Stage 1:


For Grade I and moderate Grade II sprained ankle injury


  1. Ice (every 2 hours in the first 24 hours, 15 minutes each. After the first 24 hours, ice 3 times a day, 15 minutes each.)

  2. Compression (by tapping/ using an elastic bandage with a horseshoe pad/ air splint)

  3. Elevation (e.g., using a sleeping bag at the end of the mattress)

  4. Dorsiflexion and plantarflexion exercise, 20 repetitions each or until you feel tired: (move your foot towards and away from your shin gently, do not force the movement, and you should not feel pain. This exercise helps to prevent the tightness of the calf.)

  5. Use crutches if you are not able to walk normally without pain. (When you are using crutches, allow partial weight or touch-weight bearing. Walk as normal with the maximum weight you can bear without pain.)


For severe Grade II or Grade III injury

You may be prescribed an ankle splint or boot by a medical practitioner. You can still apply ice, compression, and elevation. Delayed the exercises until swelling and pain decreased in your ankle.


Stage 2


  1. Toe-curls exercise (put a towel on the floor, grab the towel with your toes for about 1 minute or until you feel tired).

  2. Alphabet writing (move your ankle to write the letter a-z or A-Z for about 1 minute or until you feel tired).

  3. Stretching the calf muscles/ walking in the swimming pool (water above your waist).

  4. Walk without crutches when you can walk normally without pain.


Toe curl exercise after a sprained ankle injury

calf stretching exercises procedures


Continue to ice the injury part after rehabilitation exercises; you can use a supportive tape when performing functional training, e.g., walking.


Stage 3

  1. Proprioceptive standing (standing on the affected leg, attempts to maintain balance without wobbling or falling over. Perform 1-2 minutes. You can progress to standing with your eyes closed.)

  2. Double heels raised with hands holding table (repeat 10 times). Progress to double heels raised without holding table.

  3. Affected leg heels raised with hands holding table (repeat 10 times). Progress to involved leg heels raised without holding table.

  4. Calf stretching: hold the stretching for 20-30 seconds, repeat 3 times.

  5. Heel and toe walking (perform 1-2 minutes).

More on proprioception exercises

Stage 4


Rehabilitation exercises in stages 4 and 5 will be more intense and require better cardio strength. Depending on your activity levels and health condition before the injury, if you are unable to perform the following exercises, do not force yourself. Adjust the intensity of workouts that suit your physical condition. If you have doubt about the rehabilitation program, visit a health care professional or physical trainer before doing the exercises.


  1. Double leg hopping with hands holding table (repeat 10 times). Progress to double leg hopping without holding the table.

  2. Affected leg hopping with hands holding table (Repeat 10 times). Progress to affected leg hopping without holding the table.

  3. Jumping rope (begin with a low jump on both feet, and progress to affected leg jump when no discomfort or unstable feeling).

  4. Jogging


Stage 5


  1. Splinting and interval running (changing your pace during running, varying between splints and slow jogs).

  2. Backward running

  3. Side to side jumping (mark two lines on the ground with 1.5 m apart, jump side to side with double legs while progressing forward, you can proceed to single-leg jumping).

  4. The figure of 8 running: run in a figure of 8 pattern, start with a large pattern and slow pace. Decrease to a smaller figure of 8 pattern with increasing speed after gaining confidence).

  5. Cutting, sideways running, or sports-specific patterns.


This article is not intended to replace medical advice. Seek professional help if you encounter any problem with the exercise program.


How to manage a sprained ankle

Sprained ankle facts

Sprained ankle statistics

Proprioception and mechanoreceptors

Sprained ankle mechanisms

Please leave us comments and subscribe to our membership. We'd love to hear your feedback and know how we can do better.

68 views0 comments