What Should I Expect from Ankle Physical Therapy?

Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn

Ankle injuries are one of the most common of all injuries treated by physical therapists. As a load-bearing joint, the ankle takes the brunt of every misstep, and whether a person encounters an obstacle, places the foot on the ground at an odd angle, or slips on a patch of ice, it is imperative to treat an injured ankle correctly. Otherwise, the injured party is likely to suffer from chronic pain and a high risk of re-injury. Depending on the severity of the injury, there may be a standard course of treatment one can expect from ankle physical therapy.

A person with a sprained ankle.
A person with a sprained ankle.

Ankle issues range from mild sprains and arthritis to severe fractures and complete ankle replacements. Regardless of the issue, a course of physical therapy will focus on a few key areas. These areas include pain management and prevention, range of motion, strength, balance, and mobility. Some improvement in each of these areas is the minimum one can expect from ankle physical therapy. Physical therapy is prescribed by a physician and may take place at a hospital, physical therapy rehabilitation center, or private doctor's office.

Physical therapists help patients deal with pain and range of motion in an ankle.
Physical therapists help patients deal with pain and range of motion in an ankle.

On the first visit, the patient will receive an assessment and a customized plan from a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant. Range of motion and level of mobility will be documented so the physical therapist and prescribing physician will be better able to judge improvement and adjust treatment accordingly. Exercises might include soaking the ankle in a whirlpool bath of heated water while trying to draw each letter of the alphabet with the foot, followed by assisted stretching exercises administered by the physical therapist. Something else that may be expected from ankle physical therapy is homework. A patient might meet with a therapist twice a week, but will be expected to exercise the ankle each day to maintain movement.

As therapy progresses, something else that you can expect from ankle physical therapy is advancement from seated stretching exercises to standing weight bearing exercises. As range of motion and flexibility increases, a program will begin to focus more on strength and balance. Progression through the various exercises is highly dependent on the severity of the injury, but one final thing a patient can expect from ankle physical therapy is improvement that correlates with effort. Those who are committed to a physical therapy program and follow the exercises as assigned will reap the highest benefits.

Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn

Joining the wiseGEEK team has helped to satisfy Hillary’s insatiable curiosity for knowledge. She also manages an electronic publishing business that allows her to develop her skills in technical writing, graphic design, and business development. Hillary has a passion for satirical writing and enjoys traveling, especially to places of historical importance.

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Discussion Comments


@rundocuri- Your sister should schedule an appointment with a physical therapist for an evaluation before she begins treatment. This way, she can check out the facility, get to know the staff, and discuss her fears with the person who will be treating her. This plan of action will help ease her fears so she will feel confident going forward with this important treatment for her ankle injury.


@rundocuri- Tell your sister that she will be in good hands with a physical therapist, and that he or she will not expect her to do anything she is not ready to do.

Physical therapy is all about improving a problem, so doing something that causes the patient more pain is definitely not in his or her best interest. That is why physical therapists go slowly and ease their clients into all types of therapy, from stretching exercises to strength building regimens.


My sister's doctor recommended that she have physical therapy for her ankle that she injured several months ago. Since her ankle injury, she has had some pain, so she is afraid to have therapy. How can I convince her that it will be good for her problem and actually ease her pain in the long run?

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