Have you ever felt like your ankles are holding you back from reaching your full potential? Whether you’re an avid athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or just someone struggling with foot and knee issues, we’ve all been there. Ankle mobility might not be the most glamorous topic, but trust us, it’s the unsung hero of your body’s movement mechanics.
Today, we’re diving deep into the world of ankle mobility, unlocking its secrets, and discovering how it can be a game-changer in your physical performance.
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Ankle Mobility Restrictions and Factors
Ankle mobility restrictions can happen for various reasons, such as surgery, scars, or foot type. So, if you have a pes cavus foot type (i.e., a higher arch foot type), it means that you have a higher declination angle. This is going to contribute to a structurally-limited ankle mobility, which is very important to understand.
You could also have a flat foot, meaning you might have a structural or a functional flat foot. This, too, will contribute to limited ankle mobility, just as limited ankle mobility will contribute to a flatter foot type.
You want to factor in all of these different things because there are different reasons why someone might have an issue, and it might present differently in one person than in another.
Additionally, ankle sprains and unstable feet are some of the most common causes of limited ankle mobility.
We want to respect and appreciate all of these different factors that go into it because you never want to force the ankle into a position where it simply isn’t going. You want to be very intentional with how you’re assessing and looking at the ankle.
General Ankle Mobility Assessment
For a general ankle mobility assessment, follow these steps: Start by positioning your foot on the floor in a half kneeling position or a stool from a standing position. Ensure your foot is in a neutral position by finding where the tripod (underneath the first toe, little toe, and heel) is located.
Once you have even pressure on these contact points, shift your knee directly over your toe. For most individuals, the midline of the foot will align with the second toe. Measure approximately how many inches over the toe you reached with your knee. Four inches over the toe is considered adequate ankle mobility, but consider the foot type as this may vary, especially for those with higher-arched feet. Make sure there is no pain associated with the movement.
It’s crucial to maintain a neutral foot position throughout the assessment, as limited ankle mobility may cause the foot and knee to collapse inward. By optimizing the stable foot foundation and addressing ankle mobility, you can improve overall mobility and prevent potential issues.
Six Ways to Improve Ankle Mobility
1. Myofascial release
Using a ball for this exercise can be very beneficial. You can use various tools such as rad balls, neuro balls from Naboso, or other soft tissue release tools. Being intentional about your soft tissue release is important.
For individuals with a flatter foot type, you can start by working on the outside of the calf and the back part of the calf, specifically targeting the peroneal muscles and the lateral gastrocnemius. Hold each spot for 20 to 30 seconds and then move to the next spot. This pin-and-hold technique can help decrease about 70 to 75 percent of the pain in each spot. By doing this, you create inhibition, quieting down the area and setting yourself up for better foot strength and improved mobility from the ground up.
2. Ankle mobilization
During the ankle mobilization exercise with the band, place the band right on the talus bone, in front of the ankle, avoiding it being too high. The band’s tension should pull back and down, which can be achieved by hooking it to a machine or having someone hold it.
While performing the movement, gently bring the knee forward over the toes while keeping the foot neutral, being mindful to prevent it from collapsing inward. Ensure the heel remains down throughout the exercise and returns to the neutral position after each repetition. Repeat this ankle mobilization for several repetitions to improve ankle mobility.
3. Inversion and eversion
Think about finding the tripod of your foot, which is underneath the first, the fifth, and the heel. Rotate all the way in (eversion) and all the way out (inversion) without bending your knees. These movements target the spiraling pattern of both the ankle and the foot, promoting a healthy foot-to-core movement.
4. Isometric dorsiflexion
After mobilizing, move into the position of adequate dorsiflexion. From there, challenge yourself to bring your toes towards your shin, even if the range of motion is limited. Hold that position for five seconds, and then lower your foot back down. Load the joint in that range by lifting your foot three to five times.
Alternatively, you can add some resistance by placing a little weight on the knee and guiding it into dorsiflexion. Remember to be mindful of your foot type and its specific needs. This loading technique can be a powerful way to work on that particular pattern and enhance dorsiflexion mobility.
5. Short foot
Find a neutral position with a staggered stance. Root the tip of your toes into the ground. Notice the natural arch of your foot lifting, creating stability and a strong base. Practice this while integrating your breath, inhaling when your foot is relaxed, and exhaling while rooting the digits into the ground. This exercise aims to improve foot stability, which is imperative for optimal ankle mobility.
An effective method for achieving this is through mini jumps. You don’t necessarily have to leave the ground, but you can load, and then come up to your toes. By doing these mini jumps, you’re effectively loading the tendons and the elasticity of the movement, making it a powerful way to integrate and improve your mobility.
The Bottom Line
I hope you found this information beneficial. Ankle mobility comes in various forms, and it’s crucial to consider factors like your foot type, past injuries, and medical history. Ankle sprains are a major cause of limited ankle mobility, a common issue that can have far-reaching effects on the entire kinetic chain. It may contribute to discomfort in the hips, back, feet, and more. The exercises provided offer a glimpse of how to start re-patterning ankle mobility and seamlessly integrate it into dynamic movements such as lunging and jumping.
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