The Importance of Ankle Mobility
When working with injured runners its not uncommon I find stiff ankles as a contributing factor to the injury. Think of your ankle as a shock absorber. If you don’t posses functional ankle ranges you will likely over burden another joint and in time that can create problems. When we lack this fundamental movement your body will find the next "weakest link" or path of least resistance to accomplish the task. If you can't move through your ankles it would be equivalent to running in ski boots!
With some studies finding that over 75% of running injuries occur at the knee and below, the ankles are a good place to start. Limited ankle dorsiflexion (knee over toe movement) can contribute to many injuries such as: plantar fasciitis, patellar tendonopathy, patellar femoral pain syndrome ("runners knee”), shin splints, ankle sprains, among others.
Lets illuminate how this can affect other joints in the body. Take the knee for example: a very common pattern which has been increasingly blamed for running injuries is valgus knee collapse (knee dropping inwards - see the picture below). The conclusion which is often made is there is a glute strength problem. While this may be true, as it seems to be almost epidemic in the running population, it may be pre-mature and warrant further assessment. If you fail to look down at the ankle you may be fighting a loosing battle. You can posses all the strength in the world but if you don’t have the mobility to express that strength properly it is not what we would call “functional strength.”
So lets take a slightly deeper look at the ankle, I want you to think beyond simple ankle dorsiflexion and also look at the quality of the movement. You should be able to bring the knee forward over the toes AND towards the outside of your foot while in dorsiflexion (see the video) This simple outwards movement, while maintaining all points of contact with the ground, is what is often missing when we see inwards collapsing of the knee or ankle mobility restrictions. This mobility needs to be restored before worrying about hip strength. If your ankle doesn't allow for this outwards motion, increasing hip strength isn’t going to change your knee collapse.
Lets look at how we would test this and what types of mobility drills we may use to correct for ankle mobility problems. You will need to repeat these drills consistently to improve you mobility. Use the tests to track your progress.
ankle mobility Tests:
1: Knee to wall ankle mobility test
You should be able to touch you knee to the wall with your toes lined up about 4-5 inches away from the wall.
2.Knee out ankle mobility test
You should be able to move your knee towards the outside of your foot while maintaining all points of contact with the ground. Fist press your knee over your toes as in the test above, next see if you can move your knee outwards.
Ankle Mobility Drills
Rolling the Foot:
Active ankle dorsiflexion with over pressure and end range isomeric
Press you knee over your toe, add overpressure by pressing through your knee with your hands, then at the end range pull your toes up towards your shin and hold for 10 seconds.
Ankle and Hip stretch combo:
I have found this drill gives great results for gaining dorsiflexion - courtesy of Chris Johnson, PT at Zeren PT - check out his page for more great info HERE.
now USE the new mobility to lock it in
Doing a goblet squat will take your ankles into the newly found range of motion you just worked to gain. By USING IT you will be more likely to keep the range of motion you worked on.