This post follows on from the previous ‘Measure Your Mobility: The Ankle’ feature in October.
So now that you know how to measure your ankle dorsiflexion mobility, here are some simple exercises you can do at home to improve it!
Like I have mentioned in earlier posts, muscle flexibility is commonly the first thing that comes to mind when people think of improving mobility. To increase flexibility, it is suggested that you perform stretches 3 x 30 seconds on a daily basis. Maintaining flexibility is usually 3 x 10-15 seconds. It’s up to you what you do! Try these stretches to help maintain and improve flexibility around the ankle.
1. Calf Stretch
This is just a bit of a twist on the ‘classic’ calf stretch. Place a rolled up towel on the floor, and put the front 1/3 of your foot on top. Keeping your heel on the floor, step forward with your other foot so it’s in front of the towel. If you can’t feel a stretch, make sure your back leg is straight. You can play around with where you put most of your weight, but for me it works best with weight on my front foot with both legs straight (see photo’s below).. just play around with what works best for you – everyone will be slightly different. Just keep stepping forward until you feel a good enough stretch. Not everyone will feel this, but if you have tension thorough your calves you definitely will!
2. Foam Rolling
If you want to be fancy, this is known as a form of mysofascial release for the calf musculature (a.k.a Gastrocnemius and Soleus). It’s pretty simple to do yourself; just pop a foam roller under your calf, and roll away! You can rotate your leg so the foam roller reaches this inside and outside areas of the calf. Focus on any tight sports that you find.
** Simple Tip** – try moving your ankle through different ranges as you roll to target more areas and add a stretch through the calf while you are rolling.
3. Plantar Fascia Release
Following on from foam rolling; remember to work through the bottom of your foot too! People commonly forget (or genuinely don’t know) that there are lots of small muscles and connective tissues that span the sole of your foot; Plantar Fascia (among others). They connect to the Achilles tendon (the thick tendon at the back of your ankle), and can therefore also limit some movement in the ankle. These can become tired, tight and overused, so try rolling a ball (you can use a golf/tennis/lacrosse ball – or whatever you can find) under your foot for a few minutes!
I won’t bore you with the exact biomechanics, because that defeats the point of ‘Simple‘ Sports Therapy. If you have a range of movement deficit, it is likely that your ankle joints are stiff; therefore these exercise should encourage the natural movement between joints and help restore movement. If any of these cause you pain (they shouldn’t), don’t continue with that particular exercise – I don’t want you hurting yourselves!
1. Lunge with Band
Tie an exercise band around something sturdy (or you can kneel on it), and loop it around the lowest part of your leg (right at the bottom of your ankle). Step your foot forward until you feel like the band is going to pull you backwards, and then lunge forward – keeping the banded ankle at the front. Try 10 repetitions, and hold the last lunge for 15-30 seconds.
2. Tennis Ball Mobilisation
Place a ball (tennis ball will do if you don’t have a soft tissue ball) as shown in the photo – it should be just in front and under your ankle bone (lateral malleolus). Once in the correct position, hold just above your ankle joint to stabilise, and with the other hand press firmly down (see bottom photo); press and release, press and release repeatedly for 30-60 seconds.
Now that you know how to improve your ankle mobility at home, why not give it a go! Let me know your favourites and what’s worked best for you.
Side Note: It’s important to remember that with new and improved ranges of movement, you will need to make sure you are strengthening surrounding musculature. I will probably to a little blog post including some simple strengthening exercises to follow on from this!
Thank you for reading, and as always – keep it simple.