Foot & Ankle Stretches

Foot and ankle stretches are an important part of any foot rehab programme.  Tightness in the foot, ankle and calf leads to subtle changes in foot position and how forces are transferred through the foot which can lead to a whole host of foot problems.

Here, we will look at some of the best foot and ankle stretches which can be used to both help treat and prevent foot problems.  They target both the muscles and the joints to help you regain full mobility in the calf, ankle, foot and toes.  We will start with ankle, foot and toe stretches and then go on to look at heel stretch exercises.

Ankle Stretches

Here we will look at some ankle stretches to improve the mobility and movement around the ankle joint.

1)  Heel Slides

Suitable For: Almost anyone! One of my favourite ankle stretches

Foot slide ankle stretch to increase dorsiflexion. Approved use

Starting Position: Sit with your toes pointing forwards and your heel on the floor

Action: Slide the heel backwards, keeping the foot flat on the floor
Repetitions: Hold for a few seconds and repeat 20-30 times

1) To make this easier, reduce friction by placing a tray or plastic bag underneath your foot.
2)  To increase the stretch a) hook your other leg over your shin and gently push the leg backwards b) once you have slid your foot as far back as you can, keep it still while you slide your bottom forwards in the chair

2)  Foot Pulls

Purpose: To stretch the muscles across the front of the ankle and improve plantar flexion at the ankle joint

Foot pull ankle stretch to increase plantarflexion.  Approved use

Starting Position: Sit with the foot to be stretched crossed over your other leg, or resting on the floor/bed as shown. 

Grasp the middle of your foot and slowly pull the foot downwards to stretch the front of the ankle.

Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-25 times

You can stabilize the foot further by supporting just above the ankle

3)  Passive Stretches

Purpose: These ankle stretches can be used to improve inversion and eversion, the twisting movements of the ankle

Ankle stretches to improve the twisting movements of the foot, inversion and eversion.  Approved use

Starting Position: Sit with the leg to be stretch crossed over the other leg.  Grasp the outer border of your foot

Action: 1)
To improve inversion: Grasp the outer border of your foot and gently draw the foot upwards and inwards as if trying to turn up the sole of your foot until you feel a stretch down the outer side of your ankle 
2) To improve eversion:
Grasp the inner border of your foot and gently push the foot down and outwards as if turning the sole of the foot towards the floor until you feel a stretch on the inner side of your foot

Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-25 times

If only one of these movements is limited, just work on that one, but if the whole ankle is tight and stiff, do both movements.

4)  Heel Sit Backs

Purpose: Stretch the front of the ankle and improve plantar flexion of the ankle and toes with this ankle stretch

Heel sit backs to help stretch the ankle.  Approved use

Starting Position: Kneel on a bed/table with the middle of your foot off the edge.

Slowly, sit back onto your heels until the ankle stretches at the front

Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10-20 times

Increase the stretch by sitting further back onto your heel and/or moving the foot further onto the table

5)  Foam Roller Stretches

Foam rollers are a great tool for doing ankle stretches and balance work on.  Approved use

Purpose: Performing ankle stretches on a foam roller is a great way to improve ankle movement

Starting Position: Place one foot on a half foam roller

Tilt the roller outwards to get a stretch down the outer side of the ankle (foot moves into inversion), or inwards to stretch the inner side of the ankle (foot moves into eversion)

Repeat 10-20 times to each side

Top Tips:
If you don’t have a half roller, improvise.  For example, fix a hard backed book to a wide drinks bottle – just make sure it doesn’t slip away from you as you tilt.

Foot & Toe Stretches

1)  Standing Foot Stretch

Purpose: Improve ankle and toe plantar flexion movement, stretch the muscles on the top of the foot and toes

Toe and ankle stretches to improve flexibililty.  Approved use

Starting Position: Stand holding the wall or a counter for balance.  Curl your toes underneath and place the top of your foot on the floor

Slowly bend the knee and lean forwards until you feel a stretch in the top of your foot/toes

hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-25 times

2)  Toe Stretches

Toe stretches to improve movement and reduce stiffness in the toes.  Approved use

Purpose: To stretch the toe joints and muscles.   These can be modified and used for stretching any of the toes.  You can do all the toes at the same time or to be more effective, stretch one at a time

Starting Position:  Cross the foot to be stretched on top of the opposite knee.  Stabilise the foot by grasping the middle of the foot and take hold of the toe to be stretched. 

  Gently push the toe down as shown until you feel a stretch on top of the toe.  Then, draw the toe backwards until a stretch is felt in the bottom of your toe/foot.  Alternate moving the toe up and down. Alternatively, draw the toe out to the side

  Hold each movement for a couple of seconds and repeat 20-30 times

  You can isolate the movement to different joints in each toe by either pushing through the tip of the toe or further up the toe, just below the knuckle

3) Toe Stretchers

Toe stretchers are a great way to improve flexibility in the foot.

Whilst this is not an exercise, it is certainly worth mentioning here.  Wearing Toe Stretchers, such as the Yoga Toe, are one of the best ways to stretch the toes.  They can make a real difference to a whole host of foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bunions and foot corns.

They are really comfy to wear and help to stretch out the toe and foot joints and muscles really well.  They can make all the difference to sore, tired feet alongside ankle stretches.  Find out more about them in the Toe Stretchers section

What Else Can Help?

These are a selection of ankle stretches to get you going.  It would also be worth visiting the heel stretches section for exercises to help you stretch out the sole of the foot and calf regions.  Always do your ankle stretches before exercising and if your foot pain is worst first thing in the morning, stretching before you get out of bed can make a big difference. 

With most foot problems, ankle stretches should also be accompanied by strengthening exercises – find out more about how to improve the strength, stability and balance of the foot in the foot.

If you aren’t sure what is causing your foot pain, visit the foot pain diagnosis section for help working out what the problem is and what you can do about it.

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New! Comments

Share your foot pain experiences with others, whether it be ideas, top tips, things that worked well for you, problems you've had, questions etc.......

See Also

Common Causes of Foot Pain

Diagnose Your Pain

Foot & Ankle Anatomy

Treatment Options for Foot Problems

Visitor Comments

"Thank you so much! Your website is a fountain of information! I was worrying about top of foot pain, and your suggestions for strengthening and stretching are helping immensely."
Retha, US

"Your info took me straight to the problem. Well described and clearly explained."
Rick, US

"Thanks for having these exercises available! I performed a few and they have helped tremendously with my foot pain."
Jennifer, UK

"Thank you for this information, it is very useful."
Seluleko, Zimbabwe

"Some really good suggestions and information"
Denise, US

"I have suffered these symptoms for over a year seen two doctors and a physio. None of them diagnosed this. Hope its not too late to put your advice into practice." Lezlee, UK

"Certainly it has helped me to understand and educate me on the issue."
Madhuri, India

"Very interesting! All good information. Tried a few stretches, already feels good."
Cindy, US