A joint often neglect in training is the ankle, reduced mobility in this joint can affect how you move, walk, run or produce power. Having the ability to land from a jump or complete a squat can be affected by the ankle joint. Having problems with your golf swing?... check your ankle mobility.
There are many different techniques that we can use to try and help the ankle joint including stretching, strengthening and some sort of massage. The ankle needs the help of the foot, lower leg, knee, hip and core to work efficiently, so never works alone. Knee or hip problems can affect the ankle, but the ankle may also be causing the problems at the knee and the hip if motion is compromised.
The ankle movement could also be the result of a condition, an injury and confidence issues returning to normal use, a balance problem, motor control problem further up the chain or changes in the sensory input in the plantar aspect of the foot affecting locomotion. Over the last few years as research has progressed it has demonstrated that the ankle movement may not be a purely mechanical issue.
In this short article we will be focusing more on the mechanical side of movement. We could start by just doing a few exercises, but let's do some tests to see where you are, this could then lead us into choosing certain exercises to do. Today I’ve listed some general static type exercises, if your mobility is good then concentrate on the strengthening exercises, if your mobility is not so good you will need both strengthening and mobility.
These tests are not for everyone, if you have some sort of foot or toe condition, or medical condition then these may not be for you, and may even show only a small part of what you need to restore movement. Always consult your health professional or trainer as required before trying these exercises.
So when standing tall can you move your knees forward past your toes? or is it difficult to bend the knees forward? Remember to keep your heels in contact with the floor, and better to test in bare feet.
Then for the second test can you go up onto the balls of your feet and get full extension of the ankles, try on both feet at first, and stay close to a wall so you can touch it for balance. Can you hold that position for a length of time, 10 or 20 seconds? And can you do this on one foot? Is one foot different to the other? These should be easy for the athlete, but we often see surprising results. If you cannot get into position then other factors may be going on like restricted motion around the toe joints.
The third test - can you lift all your toes up and keep them up and still keep the the balls of the feet and heels on the ground?
Ankle circles either sitting or standing try 6-8 circles each way relaxed, do these slowly with full range of motion it’s easy just to move ankles and not see benefits.
Seated in a dining room chair, can you lift the foot keeping only your heels on the floor, you may feel this one across the front of the ankle or up by the shin bone. Keep moving the foot up and down slowly.
As in the test above - standing placing one foot in front of the other and trying to take the knee past the toes, moving forward and backwards slowly.
Use a tennis ball underneath the foot or across the top of the ankle for self massage.
Heel raises are a great exercise, you can do these with a straight leg and then with a bent leg. try reps of 10 at first.
Being consistent with the exercises will often see some improvement.
The ankle and locomotion can be a complex subject with many variations of foot and ankle and body positions affecting landing forces, production of power or affecting how the body moves in all directions. And what we see in the ankle may not be due to pure mechanical problems.