Mobility or flexibility in our joints is a necessary part of how we move dynamically and transfer energy when we walk, squat or jump. Any limitation in range of motion can lead to restricted movement, compensation patterns and joint stress.
As a Podiatrist, one of the most common joints where I see restricted range of motion impacting movement is the ankle. From tight calves to flat feet, there are several common causes of limited ankle mobility. However, regardless of the cause, there are a few things everyone can do to increase their ankle flexibility and improve their movement.
But before we jump into the recommended release techniques, lets briefly review the movements of the ankle joint.
Ankle Joint Movements
The primary movements of the ankle are dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Dorsiflexion occurs when the foot is flat on the ground and the leg is shifting over the foot. This movement can be observed when descending into a squat or sitting down in a chair.
A limitation in ankle dorsiflexion can cause over-pronation and is the most common contributor to flat feet.
The opposite of ankle dorsiflexion is ankle plantarflexion. This is when the toes are moving away from the leg such as when a dancer points their toes or when climbing stairs.
The transition into ankle plantarflexion is how we release energy during dynamic movement and is often referred to as a position of power.
Where most of the restriction in the ankle occurs is on the side of ankle dorsiflexion. Therefore, this article will focus on release techniques to improve ankle joint dorsiflexion.
Technique #1 – Plantar Foot Release
Releasing the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot can improve ankle mobility as this tissue is actually connected to the calf muscles.
Using a lacrosse ball or golf ball, stand or roll the foot for at least 5 minutes twice a day. This is especially beneficial to those who stand on their feet all day.
Technique #2 – Soleus Release
The calves, found in the back of the leg, is made up of two muscles – the soleus and the gastrocnemius. Of the two, the lower muscle or soleus has a greater influence on ankle mobility and therefore this 2nd release technique will be on that muscle.
Using a lacrosse ball or foam roller, release the soleus muscle for at least 2 – 3 minutes every day. Try to use a combination of pinpoint pressure and cross friction, and work all angles of the muscle.
Technique #3 – Hip Flexor Release
It may be a surprise to some that I am including a hip flexor release for ankle mobility, however our hip muscles can greatly influence our foot and ankle function.
For this release, use a lacrosse ball or foam roller to address the upper quadriceps and hip flexor muscles. Try to release these muscles at least 2 -3 minutes every day, especially if you sit a lot throughout the day.
Although these release techniques do not address all causes of limited ankle mobility, they can be beneficial for most people.
If you find that you are still experiencing restriction in the ankle or have pain on range of motion, it is recommended to see your local podiatrist for a more thorough evaluation.