We deal with ankle injuries and improving joint health every day. Here's some of the best ways to improve your ankle strength or provide extra support that we've learned from PT's and athletic trainers.
An ankle brace can be great for support. Ankle braces lock down the joint, and if you already have weak ankles from an injury, are a great way to limit motion during rehab.
However, there are some strong downsides to a brace. First, if you wear it every day for injury prevention, you are likely to weaken your ankle from the consistent use. This is because your ankle relies on small micro-motions to improve its strength over time. These motions are limited, if not impossible, when you wear a rigid ankle brace, so in the long term your ankle does not have a way to improve itself.
Ankle braces are best when used for a brief period of time and only on the rehab side of an injury, not for prevention. Athletic compression socks can be worn for injury prevention and during injury rehab. Find out if compression socks can be used as an alternative for your ankle brace.
Ankle tape is most often used for injury prevention, but it again comes with the same downsides as ankle braces. When you support the joint in such a rigid way, the lack of flexibility ends up weakening the joint over the long term, so these are another red flag when it comes to using them every day.
Additionally, tape requires some level of expertise to apply because the patterns in which it is applied matter to the support you will receive. You need some sort of training or an educated professional to use this product effectively, and this means it isn't accessible for everyone.
However, if you need support for that one game, or you are looking for a one time use case that can fit into your regular shoes, tape could be a good solution. Just be warned that consistent and prolonged use may result in a weaker ankle. Athletic compression socks mimic ankle taping but have the advantage of strengthening and supporting the ankle.
Flexibility exercises are great for the ankle because they help the ligaments and tendons stretch within the joint. When those tendons and muscles can stretch and elongate, it can make them less prone to injury, because their range of motion is greater.
Some flexibility exercises you can try are:
- Plantar Flexion
- Ankle Rolls
Here's a video that shows these motions.
Strength exercises help strengthen your joint and its ligaments and tendons. These are important when you get to the extremes of your motion, that your body is conditioned to handle situations in which injury could occur. Strengthening a joint can be really great to improve performance, or a key part of a rehab program put together by your physician.
Some strengthening exercises are below:
- Calf Raises - Video here
- Scissor Hops - Video here
- Bounding - Video here
- Squat Jumps - Video here
Last but not least, balance exercises are one of the best way to help your brain's connection with your foot and ankle. Balance training helps with proprioception, which is the body's way to know where it is at any given time. Proprioception helps your body put your foot down in a safe way even when you aren't watching it.
These are a few balance exercises that you can implement into your routine to help strengthen your ankle.
- Stand on one leg - 30 seconds at a time
- Balance + Activity - Stand on one leg and throw a ball with a partner or off of a wall. Repeat on the other leg
- One leg mini squat - On one leg, do a half squat with the other leg straight out in front of you. Do 10 and repeat on the other leg.
If you have any questions, we've cited all of the studies we used to write this article below.
Garrick JG, Requa RK. Role of external support in the prevention of ankle sprains. Med Sci Sports. 1973 Fall;5(3):200–203. [PubMed]
Miller EA, Hergenroeder AC. Prophylactic ankle bracing. Pediatr Clin North Am. 1990 Oct;37(5):1175–1185. [PubMed]
Tropp H, Askling C, Gillquist J. Prevention of ankle sprains. Am J Sports Med. 1985 Jul-Aug;13(4):259–262. [PubMed]
Firer P. Effectiveness of taping for the prevention of ankle ligament sprains. Br J Sports Med. 1990 Mar;24(1):47–50. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Hollis JM, Blasier RD, Flahiff CM. Simulated lateral ankle ligamentous injury. Change in ankle stability. Am J Sports Med. 1995 Nov-Dec;23(6):672–677. [PubMed]
RARICK GL, BIGLEY G, KARST R, MALINA RM. The measurable support of the ankle joint by conventional methods of taping. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1962 Sep;44-A:1183–1190. [PubMed]
Pope MH, Renstrom P, Donnermeyer D, Morgenstern S. A comparison of ankle taping methods. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1987 Apr;19(2):143–147. [PubMed]
Tweedy R, Carson T, Vicenzino B. Leuko and Nessa Ankle braces: effectiveness before and after exercise. Aust J Sci Med Sport. 1994 Sep-Dec;26(3-4):62–66. [PubMed]
Anderson DL, Sanderson DJ, Hennig EM. The role of external nonrigid ankle bracing in limiting ankle inversion. Clin J Sport Med. 1995;5(1):18–24. [PubMed]
Capasso G, Maffulli N, Testa V. Ankle taping: support given by different materials. Br J Sports Med. 1989 Dec;23(4):239–240. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Stover CN. Air stirrup management of ankle injuries in the athlete. Am J Sports Med. 1980 Sep-Oct;8(5):360–365. [PubMed]
Sitler M, Ryan J, Wheeler B, McBride J, Arciero R, Anderson J, Horodyski M. The efficacy of a semirigid ankle stabilizer to reduce acute ankle injuries in basketball. A randomized clinical study at West Point. Am J Sports Med. 1994 Jul-Aug;22(4):454–461. [PubMed]
Surve I, Schwellnus MP, Noakes T, Lombard C. A fivefold reduction in the incidence of recurrent ankle sprains in soccer players using the Sport-Stirrup orthosis. Am J Sports Med. 1994 Sep-Oct;22(5):601–606. [PubMed]
Karlsson J, Andreasson GO. The effect of external ankle support in chronic lateral ankle joint instability. An electromyographic study. Am J Sports Med. 1992 May-Jun;20(3):257–261. [PubMed]
Rovere GD, Clarke TJ, Yates CS, Burley K. Retrospective comparison of taping and ankle stabilizers in preventing ankle injuries. Am J Sports Med. 1988 May-Jun;16(3):228–233. [PubMed]
Leanderson J, Wredmark T. Treatment of acute ankle sprain. Comparison of a semi-rigid ankle brace and compression bandage in 73 patients. Acta Orthop Scand. 1995 Dec;66(6):529–531. [PubMed]
Laughman RK, Carr TA, Chao EY, Youdas JW, Sim FH. Three-dimensional kinematics of the taped ankle before and after exercise. Am J Sports Med. 1980 Nov-Dec;8(6):425–431. [PubMed]
Paris DL, Kokkaliaris J, Vardaxis V. Ankle ranges of motion during extended activity periods while taped and braced. J Athl Train. 1995 Sep;30(3):223–228. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Konradsen L, Ravn JB, Sørensen AI. Proprioception at the ankle: the effect of anaesthetic blockade of ligament receptors. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1993 May;75(3):433–436. [PubMed]
Feuerbach JW, Grabiner MD, Koh TJ, Weiker GG. Effect of an ankle orthosis and ankle ligament anesthesia on ankle joint proprioception. Am J Sports Med. 1994 Mar-Apr;22(2):223–229. [PubMed]
Johnson MB, Johnson CL. Electromyographic response of peroneal muscles in surgical and nonsurgical injured ankles during sudden inversion. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1993 Sep;18(3):497–501. [PubMed]
Jerosch J, Hoffstetter I, Bork H, Bischof M. The influence of orthoses on the proprioception of the ankle joint. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 1995;3(1):39–46. [PubMed]
Lentell G, Baas B, Lopez D, McGuire L, Sarrels M, Snyder P. The contributions of proprioceptive deficits, muscle function, and anatomic laxity to functional instability of the ankle. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1995 Apr;21(4):206–215. [PubMed]
Robbins S, Waked E, Rappel R. Ankle taping improves proprioception before and after exercise in young men. Br J Sports Med. 1995 Dec;29(4):242–247. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Robinson JR, Frederick EC, Cooper LB. Systematic ankle stabilization and the effect on performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1986 Dec;18(6):625–628. [PubMed]
Pienkowski D, McMorrow M, Shapiro R, Caborn DN, Stayton J. The effect of ankle stabilizers on athletic performance. A randomized prospective study. Am J Sports Med. 1995 Nov-Dec;23(6):757–762. [PubMed]
Verbrugge JD. The effects of semirigid Air-Stirrup bracing vs. adhesive ankle taping on motor performance. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1996 May;23(5):320–325. [PubMed]
Wiley JP, Nigg BM. The effect of an ankle orthosis on ankle range of motion and performance. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1996 Jun;23(6):362–369. [PubMed]