Ankle Mobility: Improve Your Movement From The Ground Up


Why do I care about my ankle mobility?

Poor ankle mobility has been linked to plantar fasciitis, overpronation, shin splints, knee pain, ITB syndrome, hip pain, and low back pain.  When you lack dorsiflexion at the ankle (a measure of how close you can bring the top of your foot to your shin) your body will compensate for that lack of mobility elsewhere, with alterations like overpronation, decreased knee flexion, knees that collapse inwards, pelvic tilt, low back flexion, and an increase in the forward trunk lean. These compensations can change the mechanics at your joints and alter the your ability to accept and distribute forces to your knees, hips, and low back, making you more prone to injury.

How can I tell if I have tight ankles?

Do a quick ankle screen from the SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment) world: get in a half-kneeling position with your toes 5 inches from the wall, foot facing straight ahead. Keep your heel on the ground and bend your knee toward the wall with the knee moving straight in line with the toes. Your knee should touch the wall, or get pretty darn close. If it doesn’t get close, it indicates you have tight ankles.

How can I help fix my tight ankles?

1. Self soft-tissue release to your calves and the soles of your feet.

  • Use a lacrosse ball or even your fingers to apply firm pressure to any knots or tight spots you feel in your calves, from the knee joint all the way down to the heel.
  • While massaging out those knots, you can point and flex your foot up and down to incorporate some active muscle release. A golf ball works great on the plantar fascia.

2. Stretch the calf with your knee both bent (to target the lower calf) and straight (to target the upper calf).

  • Aim for three sets of 30 seconds.
  • Do this twice daily.

3. Do some self ankle mobilization.

  • Mulligan mobilization with movement: This is especially great if you feel pinching at the front of your ankle when in a deep knee bend.
  • Half-kneeling mobilization with dowel rod: This helps to reinforce the alignment of your foot and ankle with your shin bone.
  • Nose to wall: This is a great activation exercise that wakes up the foot muscles as well as the calf.

When your ankles can bend to allow your knees to move over your toes more freely, you’ll be able to run softer, squat deeper, jump higher, and prevent yourself from injury.