Improve Your Ankle Mobility to Maximise Performance

The ankle is often overlooked when it comes to assessing the needs of an athlete to develop their performance programme.

If the ankles are locked up, it will have negative effects up the entire body. The most notable example is that of ACL injuries. I’ve seen it first hand, and plenty of scientific data says so too.

When looking at ankle mobility, I am looking for how far the knee is able to travel over the toes. If the knee can travel further over the toes whilst the heel stays flat on the ground, the more mobile the ankle is. The ability for the knee to travel over the toes, or simply, flexing the foot upwards, is known as ankle ‘dorsiflexion’.

How Much Ankle Dorsiflexion Should You Have?

There are no concrete numbers that state how much dorsiflexion you require. However, the requirement will change from person-to-person depending on their sport, genetics, and biomechanics. Additionally, the average range of movement that has been stated as ‘normal’ is from 11.2-25 degrees, or anywhere from 10-20 centimetres (knee-to-wall test, shown below).

Why Should You Worry About Dorsiflexion?

One study showed that ankle dorsiflexion was lower in subjects who had suffered from an ACL injury compared to those who had not. Additionally, when the ankle has greater dorsiflexion abilities, the more the energy from landing is absorbed, and less impact is transferred to the knee.
Think of is this way, if the ankle is unable to provide the required movement from being locked up and immobile, the human body is naturally going to try and find that movement from somewhere else. If the ankles are immobile, the knee is likely going to have to take up the slack. Not ideal for a joint we need to be stable, rather than mobile.

Mobility can be limited by the joint itself, or by the muscles surrounding it

Performing the simple knee-to-wall test will help you get a gauge of where your mobility is at. If you feel a stretch through your calf muscle at the back of your leg, it is likely a muscular limitation. However, if you’re knee is unable to travel further past your toes, yet you feel no stretch at all, you’re probably suffering from joint immobility.

 

Joint Limitation

Ankles can become limited in range by the joint, this can be caused by previous injury (break or sprain), tendonopathy, and even arthritis. Keeping it within an athletic context, to improve the range of motion in an ankle that is limited by the joint, we are going to follow more of a mobilisation protocol.

A great place to start for mobilising the ankles is the ankle mobilisation with band exercise.

 

Muscular Limitation

Tense and shortened muscles can also reduce our ankles’ ability to move through their range of motion. When muscles are the limiting factor, we can use release and stretching methods to improve the range.

Firstly, we can use the foam roller and lacrosse ball to release the plantar fascia and calf muscles of tension.

Next, use these basic stretches to help increase the length of the muscle.

 

Summing Up

To conclude, the ankles are a pivotal yet often overlooked joint that contributes heavily to your ability to perform. If they’re locked up, your injury risk is going to be high, but don’t worry too much, following the basic protocol I’ve laid out above will help you get those ankles moving and potentially saving you time on the sidelines!

 

References

1. Alentorn-Geli E, Myer GD, Silvers HJ, Samitier G, Romero D, Lázaro-Haro C, Cugat R. Prevention of non-contact anterior cruciate ligament injuries in soccer players. Part 1: Mechanisms of injury and underlying risk factors. Knee surgery, sports traumatology, arthroscopy. 2009 Jul 1;17(7):705-29.

2. Bennell K, Talbot R, Wajswelner H, Techovanich W, Kelly D, Hall AJ. Intra-rater and inter-rater reliability of a weight-bearing lunge measure of ankle dorsiflexion. Australian Journal of physiotherapy. 1998 Jan 1;44(3):175-80.

3. Moseley AM, Crosbie J, Adams R. Normative data for passive ankle plantarflexion–dorsiflexion flexibility. Clinical Biomechanics. 2001 Jul 31;16(6):514-21.

4. Wahlstedt C, Rasmussen-Barr E. Anterior cruciate ligament injury and ankle dorsiflexion. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy. 2015 Nov 1;23(11):3202-7.

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