06 Apr Unlock Ankle Mobility
From a functional standpoint, the ability to move well and move often starts with your foot and ankle. Foot and ankle mobility can and will directly influence movement along the entire kinetic chain – which describes the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting bones, muscles, and joints working together to perform movements. It is essential to unlock ankle mobility if you don’t want to cause issues up the chain! In this article, you will learn what ankle mobility is and why you need it as well as how to assess, unlock, and prehab your ankle mobility!
What is Ankle Mobility?
Ankle mobility refers to the amount of motion that is available at the ankle joints. There are multiple ankle joints, but the most commonly referred to and easy to identify ankle joint is the talocrural joint (where the tibia aka shinbone meets the talus). Joints in the human body are where two bones meet and connect to allow controlled motion. The talocrural joint is primarily responsible for ankle dorsiflexion and ankle plantarflexion (pointing your foot up and down). Our focus in this article is to unlock ankle mobility, specifically ankle dorsiflexion as this can cause trouble up the kinetic chain if it is limited.
Why Do You Need Ankle Mobility?
Ask yourself, on a daily basis do you ever have to…
- Put on shoes
- Squat down to pick something up
- Go up and downstairs
- Drive a car
- Sit down with your feet supported on the ground below you
If you answered yes to any of these questions (and trust me there are A LOT more), then you need to unlock ankle mobility! Ankle mobility is an essential necessity for a lot of movements and activities of daily living. Ankle mobility is just one of those things we take for granted until we have it taken away from us. Have you ever walked around in snowboard or ski boots? It can suck sometimes right?! That’s because your ankle mobility is restricted in those boots, thus movement up the kinetic chain is affected! If you know someone that has experienced a badly broken or sprained ankle they will tell you having a stiff ankle is no fun and it affects them with a lot of movements.
Knee Valgus, ACLs, & Ankle Mobility
Ankle mobility is very important for athletes, especially sports that involve jumping, landing, cutting, and pivoting motions. When it comes to uncontrolled knee valgus (knee caving in) and the motions we don’t want to see that can contribute to ACL tears, we know the glutes and quadriceps play an important role in controlling knee position. However, we have to respect the fact that the ankle also influences knee position. If an athlete is decelerating and the knee is bending and moving forward over the toes, HOWEVER, ankle dorsiflexion is limited, we might see knee valgus occur. The body will always take the path of least resistance, if the talocrural joint is limited moving into dorsiflexion, it might compensate at the rearfoot and midfoot joints with the arch collapsing, the shinbone rotating in, and the knee caving in. This is why we always check ankle mobility with our athletes! However, don’t worry, we are going to show you how to assess and ultimately unlock your ankle mobility.
How To Assess Ankle Mobility
Below you will find a couple of options to self-assess ankle dorsiflexion mobility. It would be worthwhile doing both (non-weight-bearing and weight-bearing assessments) as looking at combined test results can give you a greater insight into your ankle mobility status. It is important to watch the entire video and listen to the instructions/details as it can be easy to compensate and get false measurements.
This is a good assessment to start with because we are limiting degrees of freedom and removing the weight-bearing component. In a half-kneeling position with a wall nearby for support and balance, you can focus on just moving at your ankle and getting a clean measurement!
This is a great video to learn a functional assessment of ankle dorsiflexion with the deep squat movement as well as a standing version of assessing weight-bearing isolated ankle dorsiflexion mobility compared to the half kneeling version shown above. In this video, you’ll learn the secret to deep squats – unlock your tibia & ankle mobility. Not only do we examine the talocrural joint, but we also look at the tibiofemoral, tibiofibular, and coupled motion at other joints in the foot and ankle!
How To Unlock Ankle Mobility
Improving ankle mobility is going to look similar to assessing ankle mobility! When it comes to ankle dorsiflexion, we categorize the ankle mobility deficits by either joint (talocrural) or soft tissue (calf muscles) limitations. To be honest, trying to differentiate between the two for the average person would be challenging and may not be the most important thing to focus on. However, typical signs of joint limitations are pressure/sensation in the front of the ankle with ankle dorsiflexion whereas soft tissue limitations are typically noted with pulling sensations in the back of the ankle/calf. Below you’re going to find movements and stretches that work on both components!
Unlock Ankle Mobility With This Dynamic Ankle Mobilization
This tends to be my go-to ankle mobilization before lower body workouts, especially squatting! Spending a couple of minutes grooving the motion and working the directions that feel limited always helps to unlock ankle mobility.
Static Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilization
This is a variation I will give to people that know they have a stiff ankle. Whether it be an old injury or surgery, it may take more intense end-range, long-duration ankle dorsiflexion holds to get the improvements you want. Just be sure with this mobilization that you’re not causing sharp pinching or pain in your ankle.
Dynamic 3D Calf Stretch
This is my personal go-to dynamic stretch before any type of running, jumping, or agility exercises. Due to the muscle fiber architecture of the gastrocnemius, certain muscle fibers will get stretched when you add in angles to your calf stretch versus just moving in a linear fashion. Less is more, you don’t need to be aggressive with this or feel a really intense stretch, just think of it as warming up your calf. I will combine this with heel raises before or after as well to help warm-up the calf and unlock ankle mobility!
Want More Foot & Ankle Content?!
Our Foot & Ankle [P]Rehab Program takes the guesswork out of the equation and over a 3-month span we teach you how to prehab this body region for anything life throws at you! Click the photo or click HERE to learn more about the program
Isolated Gastrocnemius & Soleus Stretch
If you’re looking for just a really good calf stretch because they feel extremely tight, below you will find your traditional static gastrocnemius and soleus stretches. We only recommend static stretching after activity versus before activity. What static stretching really does is still debated and not fully understood, however, our body tends to crave it sometimes! If you want to do it go for it, however, don’t punish yourself for not doing it.
If you’re feeling a lot of pain/discomfort in your Achilles tendon versus your calf muscles, you may want to back off. Stretching is not the best recipe for managing tendons, instead, you want to load it. Learn why by listening to our podcast with the master of tendons, Dr. Jill Cook.
LISTEN: TALKING TENDONS WITH JILL COOK
How To Make Your Mobility Gains Stick
We want to be loud and clear – we are not promising you will unlock ankle mobility forever. Mobility is dynamic, it can come and go. If you don’t use it, you can lose it! However, if you work on something daily it tends to improve and it tends to stick better than if you don’t do it. Mobility is more than just bones, joints, and muscles, there is a neuromuscular component as well. Your brain and your body will allow you to move into a specific range of motion if you train it! Below are some of our favorite exercises to do immediately after the mobilizations and stretches shown above to unlock your ankle mobility and make it stick!
Anterior Reach with slider
Multidirectional Ankle Motions With Toe Tap
Ultimately, to unlock ankle mobility you have to understand what contributes to it, how to assess it, and how to manage it. With the tools and skills you’ve learned in this article, all you need is discipline and you’ll be on your way to optimal movement throughout the kinetic chain!