Can exercise repair a foot and ankle injury as well surgery?

A recent study in Europe found exercise therapy is just as effective as surgery for treating orthopedic patients with torn knee cartilage. Will it work for your foot and ankle? Could this approach be applied to orthopedic patients with foot and ankle damage?

Around the world, about 2 million people have arthroscopic knee surgery, making it among the many common procedures for foot and ankle issues. In this type of treatment, a miniature camera called an endoscope is inserted through a small incision in the knee, and tiny surgical instruments repair torn cartilage or other damage.

According to the British Medical Journal, researchers in Denmark and Norway studied 140 adults with an average age of 50 years who had degenerative tears in the knee cartilage called meniscus. Half had arthroscopic surgery followed by simple daily exercises at home. The other half received a supervised exercise program with three sessions per week over 12 weeks.

The study found no clinical difference between the two groups in pain, function in sports or recreation, or knee-related quality of life. However, the group that exercised improved in thigh-muscle strength.

The researchers followed up after two years and found no side effects in either group. The takeaway from this study is that exercise therapy proved more effective in improving muscle strength. Keep this in mind when exercising to strengthen your foot and ankle after a sprain or other injury.

Start with ankle warm-ups

Strengthening your ankles not only helps them recover after an injury but also makes you less prone to foot and ankle injury.

  • Sitting with your legs straight in front of you, loop a towel around the soles of your feet. Pull the towel toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the your Achilles tendon. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat three to five times.
  • Still with your legs in front of you, turn your foot outward as far as possible, hold it for 10 seconds and repeat five times.
  • Next, flex your ankle up so your toes point toward your knees. Hold for three seconds, then point your toes downward and hold for three seconds.
  • Rotate your foot slowly clockwise three times, then counter-clockwise three times.
  • Standing beside a fixed object such as a sofa, and with your heel on the floor, press the inside of your foot against the object and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat five times for each foot.
  • Turn around and press the outside of your foot against the object. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat five times for each foot.

Now repeat all of these for the other foot.

Strengthen your ankles

You can also be proactive about keeping your ankles in good shape as part of foot and ankle health. Here are some good exercises you can try:

  • Standing on the floor, slowly rise onto your toes. Hold at the top for three seconds, then lower until your feet are flat on the floor again. Repeat 10 times. When this becomes easy, rise slowly on one foot, holding the other off the floor. Do five reps for each foot.
  • Stand on one foot, holding your arms straight out to your side, and hold this pose for 60 seconds. Repeat for the other foot.
  • Stand on the edge of a stair with the balls of your feet hanging past the edge. Close your eyes and hold for 60 seconds. You can hold the handrail for balance.
  • Turn around so the back of your foot is hanging off the edge of the stair. Close your eyes and hold for 60 seconds. (The handrail recommendation applies here, too.)
  • Stand on a wobble board and balance for as long as you can. Try to hold your balance for longer periods of time each workout.
  • Use a resistance band looped around a fixed object. Pull your toes toward your knees. Do 20 reps for each foot.
  • Sitting on the floor, loop the resistance band under your foot and then push your foot forward slowly. Do 20 reps for each foot.
  • Stand up, loop the resistance band around your foot and, using only your ankle, turn your foot inward five times. Then repeat in the other direction. Do this for each foot.
  • Jog on the floor barefoot for five minutes. Extend that to 10 minutes gradually with each workout.

Strengthening your body will help it deal with the stress of running, hiking, skiing and other exercises. It’s important to do this to avoid injury. For more recommendations about healing your foot and ankle in Park City Utah, visit with the experts at Heiden Orthopedics by calling 435-615-8822.

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