Foot & Ankle Exercise After Surgery

Foot & Ankle surgery always involves a period of time before you can return to normal activities. Following an operation, your body needs time to heal, which typically involves rest, elevation of the foot and a restriction of activity. I have previously written in some detail on this postoperative period

However, after this period of rest you will often need to start a programme of rehabilitation, often in the form of strengthening and stretching exercises. This will allow you to return to your normal activities in both a quicker and healthier manner.

These exercise programmes can be very particular to different types of surgery and operation, so it is important to carry these out under the supervision and advice of a specialist. Normally this will be with a physiotherapist who is under the direction or your surgeon. With these differences in mind, below is a short set of answers to frequently asked questions about this important stage of surgical treatment.

What type of physical exercise can I do after foot surgery?

This will depend on the goal you set out with, as a rehabilitation programme will often be customised to these. For most people this goal is simply a healthy return to normal activities. However, athletes or people with very active occupations may have greater ambitions. 

Broadly speaking, the two aspects of physical exercise that will be involved are Stretching and Strengthening. 

Stretching and Strengthening

Strength: these will be targeted exercises to gradually improve strength of the muscles that support your foot and lower limbs. This will help keep your joints stable, as well as relieve some foot and ankle pains that are caused by weakness.

Stretching: Improving flexibility of your lower limb muscles can help restore the range of motion of your foot & ankle, as well as reduce muscle soreness.

How can I strengthen and stretch my ankle after foot surgery?

There are a considerable range of strengthening and stretching exercises that can be useful and that can target particular muscle groups with great specificity. The exercises that are most appropriate are highly dependent on the kind of surgery you have undergone, as well as other factors, such as age, general state of health and previous injury, among others. You can find out more about potentially beneficial exercises.

However, the two most important strengthening exercises that is recommended are:

1. Scrunching Toes To Pick Up A Towel:

  • Frequency: Once per day, five times for each foot
  • Description: this will strengthen the muscles on top of your toes and increase circulation and flexibility. While sitting down on a chair, lay a towel on the floor underneath your foot, put your toes on the edge closest to you, scrunch your toes together to grasp and pull the towel towards you.

2. Single Heel Raises

  • Frequency: 10 sets per session, three times per day
  • Description: This will generally strengthen your foot and ankle muscles. Use a counter or a wall for balance, lift one foot and raise your body slowly up and down with the foot that is still on the ground.
  • Notes:
    • Don’t bounce
    • This should not be painful

And the most important stretching exercise that I typically advise on is:

  1. Calf Stretches
    • Frequency: three minutes per session, three times per day
    • Description: there are several ways to stretch these muscles. The most basic involves facing a wall, then, with one leg in front of the over and the back leg straight, lean into the wall until you feel the back leg calf stretching
    • Notes:
      1. Keep your back heel on the floor
      2. Keep your back straight
      3. Make sure your toes are pointed forwards

Is ankle surgery painful?

Surgery is an invasive form of treatment and so will likely cause some elements of pain resulting from incision sites and bruising. However, thanks to minimally invasive techniques, medical pain management and physical therapies as outlined above, postoperative pain can be very effectively managed.

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