Quickly improve your ankle mobility

Ankle mobility is a prerequisite for so many movements in our athletic pursuits as in a squat and clean, or in our daily life like sitting on the toilet, or standing from the floor. I doubt you think about your ankle mobility much, unless you are restricted, even then you may only notice you're developing plantar fasciitis or knee pain. A skilled clinician will bring you back to the true source of the problem.

We intuitively know limited range of motion at the ankle can lead to unstable knees, or hip pain further up the kinetic chain. Research backs this thought process showing limited range of motion at the ankle influencing knee kinematics most often leading to knee valgus collapse and potentially petellofemoral pain during the squat and single leg squat performance. If I can't convince you that you need sufficient range of motion to perform squats what about landing? This study shows greater ROM at the ankle associated with smaller ground reaction forces during landing and reduced ACL injury risk! I'm speaking your language here, no matter who you are. You do squat, you do jump, you do need sufficient ankle range of motion. 

Quick story time... while working as an athletic trainer for high school athletics in San Jose I would often be asked to tape ankles. In fact it was basically the entire job. Football, basketball, rugby, you name it. The athletes would line up at my table to get taped. When I was starting out I welcomed the practice and taped everyone happily but as I became more aware I was learning that the tighter I locked down the ankle, the higher the occurrence of knee injuries became. I started asking each kid "Do you want me to tape your ankle because you have an injury, or because it looks cool?" You would be surprised how many would admit to it being purely aesthetic. In that case I would use their own tape and make it "look cool" without changing the kinematics of the joint. Look good, play good, am I right? But I digress, back to gaining that range of motion and ditching the roll of tape. 

  1. FIRST ASSESS IT. Here is a quick assessment you can do on yourself. Make sure the motion is all coming from the ankle and the heel is keeping contact with the ground. 

2. THEN FIX IT. This part is easy. The key is consistency and making this practice a daily habit. If you are spending 5 minutes a day doing ankle mobs but a solid 8 hours in your high heels for work, guess which one wins? I always start with self-myofascial release for the calf and foot. My favorite tools here are the trigger point stick and nano, but you could use anything including a lacrosse ball. Simply roll out the bottom of your feet and back of your leg. Don't forget the gastroc crosses the knee, so you need to go just above the knee all the way down around the ankle to the toes. 

Next stretch. These are a few of my favorite stretches for the calf. Again, the gastroc crosses the knee so the first stretch I recommend keeping the leg straight, however the soleus (the other muscle in the calf) does not. To isolate this muscle bend the knee and repeat. 

Finally add in your ankle mobility drills. I'm sure you've seen a million of these on the inter webs. It seems to be a hot topic but jumping straight to these drills wouldn't be the best idea. Follow the progression. I love this drill shown by Eric Cressey. Try it out and skip to step three (reassess), if you have not regained your mobility try the following drill shown by me which is slightly more aggressive combining MWM in various positions. 

3. REASSESS. Have you gained that precious mobility? If you have any  new range, "lock it in" by using it! Using the new found ROM will show your nervous system that you have the range and can control it, so squat, jump, move! If you are still missing some range you may just need a skilled clinician to do some more specific myofascial work using a plethora of tools and techniques including IASTM, compression floss, ART, or the like.