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Improving Ankle Flexibility for Running and Performance

Do your knees cave in while squatting or running? Do you suffer from “fallen arches” or bunions? If you do then it might be time to check the mobility of your ankles, as a decrease in ankle flexibility can cause these things to occur.

Ankle dorsiflexion is the ability to move the toes and top of the foot upward or the ability of the knee to move past the toes when the foot is planted.

When your ankle is not able to dorsiflex, compensations are made. This includes pronation of the foot, internal rotation of the shin and knee valgus (knee caving in). Due to these factors, there have been several conditions that have been linked to these limitations including Achilles and patellar tendinopathies, ankle instability and anterior knee pain.

Decreased dorsiflexion, sometimes referred to as “equinus” may occur for several reasons. Individuals who wear shoes with a heel, have been immobilized, have had previous ankle injuries, or are generally sedentary may be limited in dorsiflexion.

These limitations may be due to calf/soleus tightness or joint restrictions that are preventing the foot and ankle joints from gliding over each other properly.

The knee to wall test is a quick way to assess whether you have adequate ankle flexibility.

Knee to Wall Test.

· How to complete the test: Position the front foot 10 cm away from the wall. Step back with the back leg, bending the front knee, and allowing the knee to approximate to the wall.

· What does it test for? The flexibility of the muscles of the ankle including calves, soleus, and the intrinsic foot and ankle muscles.

· Why is this important? Ankle dorsiflexion is important for shock absorption, maintenance of centre of gravity and posture during running, walking and other daily activities.

· Faults:

o Inability to reach 10 cm.

o The collapse of the arch.

o Inability to maintain kneecap over the first and second toe.

o Pain/stiffness.

How to improve ankle flexibility?

If you are experiencing pain and stiffness in the back of the leg or Achilles area, chances are you lacking tissue flexibility. These muscles in the posterior leg including the calf, soleus, tib post and toe flexor muscles. You may stretch these muscles to improve dorsiflexion.

If you are experiencing pain or pinching in the front of the ankle, chances are the ankle joint is limiting. The ankle is made up of several small bones that need to slide over one another to allow for ankle dorsiflexion. In this case, joint mobilizations over muscle stretching should be used.

Check out this routine to improve ankle range of motion below.


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