Our ankles are often overlooked in the healthcare profession. Most healthcare providers will only examine the ankle if there is an injury in the area. However, studies have shown that if there is a lack of ankle mobility, the knee, hip, lower back, and even neck pain can be attributed to a lack of ankle mobility. If we take a step back and look at the role of the ankle, we can certainly understand how this is possible.
Our ankles are a mobile joint, meaning they serve in more than one plane of range of motion. Those are inversion, eversion, dorsiflexion, plantarflexion, abduction, and adduction. As you know from previous blogs, when a mobile segment becomes stable, meaning it loses range of motion in one or more planes, the cascade can affect distal segments. So, whether you’re an athlete or not, your ankle mobility can drastically affect your life.
For the non-athlete, a stiff ankle can cause hip imbalances which can result in hip and lower back pain. This can also cause you to “waddle” as you walk which overtime can lead to an increase in degenerative joint disease in the hip and low back. For the athlete this can impact performance. For the powerlifter a strong base is the foundation for any efficient Olympic lift. If the ankle cannot stabilize the foot in inversion/eversion during a lift, it can translate to a shift in the knee and the hip losing efficiency and therefore the amount of weight a person can lift. For a runner having sufficient dorsiflexion and plantarflexion can make the difference in achieving the sub twenty-minute 5k. Soccer, football, tennis, basketball, and golf athletes are more prone to having ankle imbalances due to the incredible amount of force those sports put on the ankles.
Some simple drills that anyone can do at home to increase ankle mobility and stability as simple as standing on one leg close to a wall for support. The goal would be to hold a single leg stance for longer than a minute with each side. Drawing the alphabet with your big toe, half kneeling calf stretches with a flat foot, and stretching your calves are great ways to improve ankle mobility. If you’re still experiencing stiffness after trying these stretches, some adjustments to the foot and ankle can increase mobility as well!
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