Having good ankle mobility helps provide a foundation for developing power, stability and balance for the body. Limited ankle mobility could compromise body alignment and may increase your risk of injury. Ankle mobility is needed in everyday life such as walking, running and squatting type motions, and in most sports, like tennis, golf, weight lifting and agility in field sports.
One of the main movements of the ankle to check for mobility is dorsiflexion. Poor mobility in this movement could be from a stiff ankle joint or tightness in the calf muscles. A couple of quick tests you can do to test for motion is the wall test and the straight leg foot lift.
Stand with both feet (toes) touching a wall, bend both knees to see if they can touch the wall without your heels coming of the floor. If your knees have problems touching the wall in this position, then you may need some further mobility. To be more accurate in this test you could move one foot back and use one foot only. If your knee touches the wall move toes away from wall 1cm and try again. You may find one foot better than the other.
Second test, standing tall, try to lift the ball of the foot from the floor on one foot. If this is difficult it may be due to tight calf muscles, ankle joint stiffness or strength in the anterior tibialis muscle.
So, if your ankles are not so mobile as you thought what can you do to improve them?
Stretch, that’s always the first thing to come to mind. It’s the obvious thing to try but will you maintain mobility? Static stretching before an event has been shown to reduce power in muscles. Foam rolling it’s been around for a few years now, but in some instances, has been used too much causing some bruising on the muscle’s, but could be useful. Self-massage around the calf muscle always feels relaxing but on its own may not keep the flexibility. Doing heel raises on a small block – so the heel falls below the level of the toes, before extending up, which could be classed as a strength exercise can give much better results than stretching.
As you can see, gaining a few degree’s more movement could take a little bit of work. The calf muscles are also postural muscles and when in a standing position are playing a tug of war in keeping you upright, so trying to stretch a muscle already under tension, feels like a stretch but doesn’t gain further mobility and can depend on the position you stretch in, the intensity of the stretch and for how long you are holding the stretch. Biomarkers in the body have shown an inflammatory response to intense stretching. Further factors that may need to be considered include: previous injury, nerve irritation, large toe mobility, glide motion on the ankle joint, any knee conditions that may compromise ankle motion, movement patterning and overuse.
So, improving that ankle mobility may take some work, and may need an assessment to determine what options could be useful.