Ankle Pumps Exercises: Instructions, Benefits, Tips, and More

Ankle Pumps Exercises: Instructions, Benefits, Tips, and More

Inactivity leads to weak muscles and unstable steps. When you're the victim of inactivity because of an injury or surgery, you can take your recovery into your own hands with the simple exercise of ankle pumps. What are ankle pumps and how do they help both surgical and non-surgical patients?

Ankle pumps are a small but effective exercise that strengthens your ankles, improves your stability, and staves off dangerous conditions like blood clots. You do not need any equipment to complete them, and they have a myriad of benefits for both surgical and non-surgical patients.

What Are Ankle Pumps?

Ankle pumps are a type of stretch also known as an ankle pumping exercise. You complete this stretch while you're sitting to stretch and relieve tension in essential areas of your feet.

Ankle pumps also improve your flexibility. Because they prevent blood clots, doctors often recommend ankle pumps before and after surgery. Ankle pumping is especially important if you're prone to deep vein thrombosis.

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Thrombosis refers to a blood clot. Thus a deep-vein thrombosis means you've developed a blood clot in one or more of your deep veins. Typically these clots form in the deep veins of the leg. 


If you have deep vein thrombosis, you may have leg pain or swelling. However, you can still develop the clot with no symptoms at all. One of the major causes of deep vein thrombosis is surgery.

When you have surgery on your hips, legs, abdomen, or pelvis, you end up bedridden for a significant period. This means you do not move much, and your blood circulation slows down. Circulation prevents clots, so not moving can cause your blood to thicken and clots to form.

Clots are not only painful but also dangerous. The clot can travel from your leg or other extremities to your lungs, heart, or brain, causing cardiac arrest or stroke.

Ankle pumps help prevent clots by keeping your blood circulating. Plus, you can do them even when you're just sitting in a chair or lying in a bed.

How to Do Ankle Pumps


Ankle pumps are a simple but effective exercise that prevents clots. Here is how to complete ankle pumps when sitting in a chair.

  1. Sit with back straight against a chair and legs extended in front of you, spread slightly apart.
  2. Point your toes up so your soles are flat.
  3. Pretend you're pressing down on the gas pedal of an automobile and point your toes down.
  4. Hold your toes in this stretch for a brief count of three to five seconds.
  5. Slowly return your toes so your foot is perpendicular to the floor.

You just completed one round of ankle pumps.

You can also complete ankle pumps when you're lying down if you're unable to sit up in a chair. Instead of beginning the exercise with your back straight against a chair and your legs extended in front of you, just lie down and keep your legs straight in front of you with your feet spread slightly apart.

Then complete the ankle pump exercise. Start with your toes pointed to the ceiling. Flex your foot as if you're pumping the gas on a vehicle.

Hold the foot flexion for a few seconds and then return the toes so they're pointing back to the sky.

If You're Bored

Let's be honest. Ankle pumps are not the most exciting exercise. They've proven to keep the circulation moving in your lower leg, so you really need to do them especially if you need to have surgery.

However, you may lose track of what you're doing or even the count of them because they're such a dull stretch.

If you're bored, you can spice up the stretch a bit. instead of just pumping your ankles, draw a circle with your big toe. Move counterclockwise five times and then clockwise five times to strengthen your ankle and build flexibility.

You could also try to draw the alphabet with your big toe. Begin with a big cursive A and then move down the alphabet.

Drawing the alphabet with your toes will strengthen your ankle, increase the flexibility of your ankle, and increase the circulation of your lower leg. So you strengthen your muscles and prevent dangerous blood clots at the same time.

Other Helpful Exercises Post Surgery

If you're lying in bed post-surgery and want to see some real improvement, you can do more than just ankle pumping sets. You can add in two other exercises that improve circulation and build muscle. Best of all, you do not have to get out of bed to do them.


  1. Quadriceps Sets: Straighten your legs in front of you as you lie in bed, and tighten your front thigh muscle. Press the back of your knee into the bed as you tighten the quad and then release the contraction. Hold the contraction for five seconds and then release it.
  2. Gluteal Sets: As you lie in bed, squeeze you glute muscles or butt muscles together. As you do this, your hips will rise. Hold the contraction for five seconds and then release it.

Complete 2 sets of 10 to 20 exercises for maximum effect.

When to Do Ankle Pumps

If you have to have ankle surgery, many doctors will encourage you to prepare for surgery by exercising your ankles with ankle pumps. Ask your doctor before you begin this regimen. If you receive a green light, then start exercising those ankles.

At least a week before surgery, complete a daily routine of 20 ankle pumps for each foot two times every day. You should complete this action both before and after surgery.

Also, if you feel the tension in your ankles, perform these ankle pumps. They just make an ankle feel good too because they increase circulation.

If you have a job or an activity that puts you off your feet for hours at a time, complete ankle pumps at least once an hour. You've probably seen ankle pumps explained on educational videos on flights if you've ever taken a long flight across the country or across the world.

Even healthy people can develop deep vein thrombosis if you do not move enough. So get those ankles moving.

Any situation associated with prolonged bed rest can lead to circulation problems. For example, if you contract an illness and do not feel like getting out of bed, complete ankle pumps several times a day to keep your circulation moving and your legs strong.

Reason to Do Ankle Pumps

Ankle pumps have proven to help people in many ways. Both surgical and non-surgical patients benefit from them.

Build Strength

When you do not actively contract your muscles, your muscles will lose their strength at a rate of 10 to 15 percent per week. This means if you're bedridden for four weeks and do not actively contract your muscles, you could lose up to 50 percent of your strength in those muscles.

Ankle pumps are a small but effective way to contract your calf muscle, an essential muscle for walking and general mobility.

Muscle loss due to inactivity will cause a dangerous chain reaction. You're weak, and your brain doesn't to want to make you work harder. But you must work harder after surgery and after inactivity to regain your mobility and strength.

A good rule of thumb is that regaining strength will take twice as long as the time that you are immobile. So if you're immobile and bedridden for a week, plan on at least two weeks of hard work to regain your strength.

Basic ankle pumps will help build muscle and keep your circulation moving. This will help you regain strength even more quickly.

Build Confidence

When you've had surgery or come out of a period of immobility, your mind suffers just as much as you're body. If you're one of the few people confident enough to believe you can jump right back on your feet again, you quickly have your ego deflated with the first physical therapy appointment. Your PT gives you rudimentary exercises, and you find yourself in a cold sweat, trying to muscle out the simplest moves you could have done with ease before.

Ankle pumps are simple and small exercises. You can do them almost immediately after surgery with your nurse's or doctor's permission. When you begin a regular regimen of this simple exercise, you begin to build mental muscle that perhaps you can take your recovery into your own hands.

This little seed of confidence will grow, and when you go home, you can confidently move forward with the home exercises your physical therapist and doctor have prescribed in addition to ankle pumping exercise.

Reduced Swelling

When you do regular ankle pumping exercises, you're raising your ankles and moving fluid out of your ankles and legs. Thus ankle pumps have proven to reduce swelling.

You do not have to be a post-surgical patient for this benefit. If you struggle with edema, you can see your swelling go down by just doing a regular routine of ankle pumps daily.

Wake Up Your Ankles

If you wake up with sore joints, ankle pumps are a great way to wake up your joints before you jump out of bed. It's frustrating to get up and feel pain immediately.

So, instead of rolling out of bed when your alarm goes off, take a minute to wake up your muscles. Do two sets of twenty ankle pumps for each ankle. Then complete a set of ten quadriceps contractions and a set of ten glute contractions.

This will wake your muscles up and get your circulation moving so you feel better when you take those first steps. Less pain will give you more confidence to move throughout the day as well.

Prevent Blood Clots

Deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, affect up to 900,000 people in America every year and kill up to 100,000 people.

We've already explained how you're more prone to blood clots after surgery. There are other factors that make you at risk for blood clots other than surgery. Here are a few:

  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Trauma
  • Age (if you're older than 60)
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Immobility
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases
  • High blood pressure

All of these conditions, whether you have one or multiple, make you at risk for developing a deadly blood clot. Basic, simple exercises like ankle pumping will help you avoid clots when you have one of these conditions.

Increases Stability

Ankle pumping wakes up and strengthens the muscles surrounding your ankles. Therein, when you complete a set of ankle pumping exercises, you increase your stability.

You also increase your range of motion with ankle pumps. This means you can handle unstable footing better because you have a better range of motion in your ankles.

Instability leads to ankle sprains and easy falls. If you've suffered such an injury, you will see yourself recover more quickly from a sprained ankle.

When you've been sidelined and you're just sitting there with your ankle elevated, you don't have much to do. You can increase your recovery with ankle pumps. Even if the ankle is swollen, you can exercise it, as long as you do not put bodyweight on it as you exercise.

Tips for Ankle Pump Exercises

Ankle pumps are a repetitive exercise that works best when you do them consistently. You cannot expect immediate results with just one session. Rather, you need to discipline yourself to complete at least two sessions a day.

Then you need to do the exercises day after day, not skipping a session.

Take your time as you complete each exercise. If you go too fast, you will not get the full benefit of the exercise. If you're completing the exercises on a leg that has recently had surgery, elevate the surgical leg above your heart as you exercise it.

You can complete the exercises in a chair. To receive the maximum benefit, though, you should do them with your leg elevated and supported. This will take tension off the muscles surrounding your knees.

Pump It Up

If you have questions about ankle and knee health, check out our frequently asked questions and take time to learn about us. Ankle pumps are just one of the many areas of expertise we have. Contact us for all of your ankle and knee needs.

1 comment

  • Carol

    I had a pulmonary embolism recently. I am concerned about
    having another one. I do at least fifty plus ankle pumps daily.
    I walk 30 minutes and I do some chair exercises.

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