Which Ankle Mobility Drill is Best for Me?

By djpope

August 23, 2015

achilles tendon, ankle mobility, assessment, flexibility, mobility, soleus, stretch

Some time back I came out with this video showing an easy assessment for ankle mobility.  Ankle mobility is essential for technique during deep squats, pistols, lunge and step-up variations.  It’s also something that’s implicated in knee pain, potentially causing knee valgus in deep squatting movements.  

ankle_impingement_anat02One thing I’ll ask my patients and athletes when they do this assessment is, “Where do you feel like you’re being limited here?”  “Do you feel a block or pinch in the front of the ankle or do you feel a pull / stretch in the back of the ankle?”

If the individual feels a strong pull in the achilles and soleus area then we can assume there is a limitation in those tissues.  In this situation stretching, foam rolling and other soft tissue interventions should work really well.

Talus PosteriorIf the individual feels more of a block in the front of the ankle it could be a joint mobility restriction.  In dorsiflexion of the ankle the talus bone should move posteriorly under the tibia and fibula of the lower leg.  If this isn’t occurring it could be causing that “blocked” sensation in the front of the ankle.  In this case, stretching and soft tissue work may not be as effective as in individuals that feel a stretch in the soleus/achilles during this test.  For individuals with a blocked sensation in the front of the ankle I recommend more self joint mobilization.  For these individuals I also highly recommend seeing a good manual therapist to help get things moving a bit better.  Here are some of my favorite ankle mobility exercises I’ll give to my patients as part of their HEP:

As taught in the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) we need to learn how to differentiate between tissue extensibility disorders (TEDs) and Joint Mobility Dysfunction (JMD).  The two should be treated differently for optimal results.  As always you should test and re-test after your intervention to see if you’re getting the results you’re looking for.

To Recap:

  • Patients with achilles / soleus stretch with testing: Foam Rolling, Soft Tissue Manual Techniques, Stretching
  • Patients with a block in the front of the ankle: Self joint mobilizations, manual techniques to promote joint / capsular mobility and adequate joint gliding

If we utilize a thorough assessment strategy we can be much more effective with our corrective strategy.  It’s the difference between hunting with a shotgun and being a sniper.  Be the sniper, be more efficient.

Another common finding is that initially a patient may feel more of a stretch when tested and over time may start to feel an anterior block.  Building mobility is like unpeeling the layers of an onion.  Initially the main restriction may be muscular, over time that may get better and uncover a joint restriction or vice versa.  Treatments should vary over tim as this occurs

Lastly, always reinforce your mobility work with motor control exercises (As seen in the video above) to help make your mobility more permanent.  Finishing your mobility work with the pattern you’re trying to improve (i.e. squatting, pistols) is also helpful.  I also like placing mobility work between sets of the exercise you’re trying to perform (i.e. ankle mobility between sets of pistols) to be extra efficient.

So the next time you assess ankle mobility, where does your athlete/patient feel it?  Also, was your intervention more effective because you chose the right technique?  Respond in the comments below.

Super Efficient Ankles,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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