Therapist Lauren Dobson explains how your ankles’ range of movement can affect your performance…
Do you suffer regularly with tight calves or even cramping in the foot or calf?
Have you ever even thought about your ankle mobility?
Our ankles are the basic foundation of most movements, yet it is occasionally the most ignored joint next to the wrist in terms of flexibility.
A good percentage of us don’t think about mobility at all but, when we do, we usually focus on our shoulders and hips.
The ankle joint are stability joints that must very quickly absorb force, then help shift weight for the next movement as well as provide the base of functional strength.
It seems silly to look so much into such a small joint – but having a nice strong base there will help improve all weight-baring activity.
Correct range of movement
The most important factor to consider initially is that we have the correct range of movement, then we look at stability and strength.
It is important when we walk, run, cycle, squat, play football or hockey that we have good range of movement through the ankle joints. If one – or both of these – are restricted, we create added stress on the other lower extremities no matter which activity you are performing.
Let’s take running as an example. When we run, our ankle moves up and down (dorsi-flexion and plantar-flexion) to allow us to absorb impact, control our body position and push off effectively with enough power.
A runner with an Achilles tendon injury, causing tightness and shortening of the tendon, will have reduced ankle mobility and this will affect the athlete’s performance and speed. In longer distances, it will also put added pressure through the knee complex.
What causes poor ankle mobility?
- Flexibility through the calf muscles
- Ankle joint restriction – capsular tightness or scar tissue
- Adapted bad postures
- Previous injuries to the lower body
- Frequently wearing heeled shoes/poor footwear
How do we test ankle mobility?
The knee-to-wall test
Stand with your foot vertical to the wall, with your big toe 5cm from the wall and knee in line with the foot. Bend your knee and attempt to touch the wall while keeping the entire foot flat on the ground paying close attention to the heel. If the knee reaches the wall successfully with no heel raise, move 6cm away from the wall and repeat until the maximum distance from the wall is found.
Less than 5cm = poor ankle mobility
Up to 10cm = acceptable ankle mobility
More than 10cm = good ankle mobility
Lying active dorsi-flexion against wall
Lay on the ground with your feet together and flat against the wall and legs flat, arms by your side. Pull your toes back and as far away from the wall as possible keeping your heel in contact with the wall.
Unable to move the ball of foot from the wall = poor ankle mobility
Reaching 2-3cm from the wall = acceptable
3-5cm or more away from the wall = good ankle mobility
Lying active plantar-flexion
Begin on your back with feet pointing upwards in a vertical position. With control, point your toes away from you as far as possible and hold at your end range of motion. The goal is to reach around 30 degrees range of motion. Anything less than 20 degrees would be a sign of poor ankle mobility.
How do we re-gain ankle mobility?
From the tests, you might find that there are some improvements to make to reach our recommended ankle range of movement. This may be necessary on both ankles or just the one.
Some of the techniques used may take longer than you expect as you are possibly trying to regain muscle length in some of the structures – but using a mixture of all methods will show some quick improvements.
Both static and dynamic stretching can be performed daily and/or as part of a warm up routine.
Try repeating the knee-to-wall test as a stretch and try to hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Use self-massage techniques with an Active Foam Roller or Active Trigger Ball on the calf, tibialis anterior (shin muscle) and plantar-fascia. Use a foam roller to approach above and below the ankle joint to allow the muscle structures to increase flexibility.
Once we have improved our ankle mobility, it is then time to start stabilising the joint and strengthening the lower body. All of these go hand-in-hand to optimise performance and reduce the risk of injuries to the ankle, knee, hip and lower back.
If any of the testing or mobility exercises cause pain or discomfort, it is recommended that you get seen by a professional for an injury assessment to rule out any serious injury. Function Jigsaw’s experienced therapists are available by calling (0116) 3400 255.