8 Ankle Stretches to Try at Home

Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS on July 12, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin

Why ankle stretches matter

Feeling sore? A good stretch may be just what the doctor ordered. If you deal with ankle stiffness or pain, there are many stretches that can help. Taking time each day to work on your strength and flexibility can ease your discomfort and improve your range of motion.

If you’re injured, you’ll want to check with your doctor before starting anything new. Rest may be best, or there may be specific instructions you should follow until you’re on the mend.

Before getting started, be sure to warm up. Try 5 to 10 minutes of low-impact exercise, like walking or riding an indoor bicycle.

You should also pay attention to any pain you experience while stretching. While you may feel sore from time to time, actual pain is something you should discuss with your doctor.

1. Ankle circles

ankle circles

Ankle circles help with range of motion. You can do ankle circles from either a sitting or lying position:

  1. Start by turning your ankle around slowly in circles to the left, then the right.
  2. You may even find it easier to try drawing the alphabet in the air with your foot. Lead with your big toe.
  3. Keep your movements small and focus on only use your foot and ankle, not your entire leg.

For circles, try doing 10 in each direction with each foot. If you’re doing the alphabet, complete 2 sets of this exercise on each foot.

2. Achilles stretch

achilles stretch

An Achilles stretch is a lot like a calf stretch you may already know how to do:

  1. Start by standing near a wall or other support, like a chair, with your hands on the wall at eye level.
  2. Place your left leg a step behind your right leg.
  3. Keep your left heel on the floor and bend your right knee until you feel a stretch in your left leg.
  4. Here’s the trick: Bend your back knee bent slightly to stretch your Achilles tendon.

Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, repeating 2-4 times on each leg.

3. Towel stretch

towel stretch

To do this:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
  2. Wrap a towel around your toes on both feet.
  3. Pull back slightly until you start to feel a stretch at the very bottom of your feet and the back of your lower legs.

Aim to hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat it 3 times total.

4. Band stretch

band stretch

You may also use a band or strap to help with stretches. As with the towel stretch, using a prop like this can help deepen the stretch.

To do an inward towel stretch:

  1. Sit with your towel or band around your left foot.
  2. Firmly hold each end of the towel with your hands.
  3. Slowly turn your ankle inward, like you are facing the sole of your foot to the right.
  4. Then pull up with the right-hand side of the towel to deepen the stretch.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

To do an outward towel stretch:

  1. Sit with your towel or band around your left foot.
  2. Firmly hold each end of the towel with your hands.
  3. This time, slowly turn your ankle outward, like you’re facing the sole of your foot to the left.
  4. Then pull up with the left-hand side of your towel to deepen the stretch.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Try holding these stretches for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

5. Standing calf stretch

Standing calf stretch

To dial up the tension in your stretch, you can move to a standing position:

  1. To start, stand facing the wall or other support, like a chair, with one foot in front of you by around 12 inches.
  2. Point your toes up.
  3. Slowly lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your lower leg.

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Do 3 rounds total.

6. Standing soleus stretch

Standing soleus stretch

Athletes often find themselves with tight calf (soleus) muscles. To stretch this deep muscle:

  1. Stand a few feet away from a wall or other support, facing it.
  2. Place one leg in back with your heel flat on the floor.
  3. Your other leg can come forward toward the support.
  4. Gently turn the foot on your injured leg inward toward the other foot.
  5. Then slightly bend your front knee into the support until you feel a stretch in your injured leg.

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

7. Cross leg ankle stretch

Cross leg ankle stretch

To do this:

  1. Sit comfortably with your left leg crossed over your right knee.
  2. Hold your right foot with your hands.
  3. Then use your right hand to bend your left toes and ankle downward, like you’re pointing your toes.
  4. You should feel this stretch on the front of your ankle and your foot.

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

8. Chair Pose

Chair Pose

You may want to try some yoga poses to help stretch your ankles. Chair Pose (utkatasana), for example, is a good choice for yogis of all levels:

  1. Stand tall in tadasana. Inhale as your raise both of your arms overhead, palms inward.
  2. As you exhale, bend both of your knees slightly, working toward getting your thighs parallel with the ground.
  3. Your torso should make a right angle with the tops of your thighs.

Try holding this pose for 30 seconds to a full minute. To come out of it, inhale and straighten your knees.

The bottom line

Always consult with your doctor before starting any new exercises and stretches, especially if you’ve been injured or had recent surgery.

If you’ve had a recent injury or surgery, you may want to follow a dedicated strength and stretching routine for four to six weeks. Your doctor likely has specific exercises and suggestions you should follow during your recovery as well.

Otherwise, stretching your ankles may help with your range of motion and overall stiffness and soreness. Try to stretch regularly, or three to five days out of the week.

You can also speak with your doctor or physical therapist about other ways you might be able to improve your ankle strength and flexibility. A trained professional can tell you if you’re doing these moves correctly. Proper form is important.

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