Ankle Flexibility and Screening

There are are 360 joints in the body, but none as significant as the ankle.  When there is a restriction in one joint, it will provide a compensatory pattern throughout the rest of the body.  Take walking as an example, if you strike your foot incorrectly because of limited flexibility in the ankle joint you’re already in a bad position meaning you’re fighting a losing battle for efficient movement.  (Check Gary Wards book What The Foot for more details).

The ankles role in functional movements go from the simplest to most complex functional/sporting tasks.  I would write a list but you wouldn’t have time to read it. One of the most important tasks that you see everywhere is the squat pattern.

Ankle range of motion

Kelly Starrett uses the pistol squat with heals on the ground as his marker of acceptable dorsiflexion (ankle flexibility).  I would 100% agree. Another test which the science world use if the knee to wall or getting out a goniometer. I prefer Kelly’s due to it lack of grey area data, you either can or can’t. Its either acceptable or it isn’t. Get up and give it a go.

People that are coming late to the dorsiflexion game will have to put in the time to catch up.  This must be clear, the ankle joint has one of the strongest tendons crossing it and one manual therapy, foam rolling, trigger point, Graston session aint gonna cement lasting change.  You need to build a habit of consistent mobility for the immediate short term. 

I’m gonna get a little sciency here because it is the only way I can explain my next point.

Calcaneal eversion is proximally coupled with internal rotation of the tibia, and consequently the femur.  This is a necessary component of walking gait and movement, however when there is a restriction in ankle flexibility, then gluteal activation is compromised and an increase in valgus occurs.  You can do all the glute exercises you want, but you’ll still have an underlying crappy foot mechanic which will lead to long term problems.

I see a lot of YouTube influencers suggesting that valgus is caused by the glutes not “firing” and to some degree yes, but the less sexy conclusion is ankle bad ankle dorsi flexion. You can do all the sexy lumbar extended, hip flexed banded external rotations you want but you’re probably not address the issue.

Check this video for an easy flexibility exercise which can be done from home, in your kitchen with ZERO equipment.  The only excuse you have then is your own mindset of just not doing it.  You don’t need a band, you don’t need a therapist you just need to change your mindset.

 

I need to express again, that is a relatively aggressive stretch and will require significant amount of bodyweight to go through that joint. If you feel pain use your brain and stop. However, those that just feel a tightness then stick with it. 

Working on flexibility can be frustrating and due to its very slow (permeant) change to the soft tissue, it takes time (having said that, the joint mobiliser in the video is pretty good and you can expect immediate differences).