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How to Improve Ankle Mobility and Why It’s Important

exerciseprogramming mobility physicaltherapy Oct 30, 2019

How to Improve Ankle Mobility and Why It’s Important

If you’re missing ankle mobility, there’s a very good chance you’re not going to be feeling, moving, and performing as well as you’re capable of. A lack of ankle mobility is one of the common findings we see in those with knee pain, achilles tendinitis, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, hip issues, and lower back pain.

Ankle Mobility Ankle Pistol Squat | Inside Out Strength and Performance Physical Therapy Carlsbad California

This is because our ankle joints are designed to be very mobile. If we are missing mobility here, which tends to gradually happen over time due to our footwear and our habits, then other joints have to compensate. When a mobile joint becomes stiff, then other joints above and below the joint (that are not designed to be mobile) suddenly end up becoming more mobile than they should be. When a joint that is supposed to be strong and stable becomes mobile, problems tend to happen. This is where overuse injuries occur that make up such a large portion of people we see in our performance physical therapy clinic.

Ankle Mobility and Performance

However, just because you’re not in pain doesn’t mean that ankle mobility isn’t important. Having full mobility here is essential for optimal movement and performance. This is especially true for runners, olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, and in almost all athletic sports. If this area of the body becomes stiff, we won’t be able to efficiently transfer force from our lower body through the ground, which means less power and balance with your sport activities.

How to Fix Limited Mobility in the Ankles

Without diving too deep into an anatomy lesson, there are multiple areas that need to be considered when looking to improve ankle mobility. The calves, the multiple joints of the ankle, and the strength of surrounding musculature can all limit the mobility of your ankles.

It is important to find the reason you’re limited and work on that specific area to see the most change. If we keep stretching our calves when it’s actually our ankle joint that’s stiff, we’re probably not going to see the results we’re after.

Below we’ll be going through some of our favorite ways to improve ankle mobility. As mentioned above, the needs of each individual is going to vary, so there is no one best exercise when it comes to improving ankle mobility. It’s important to try one of these for a week, and then reassess if your mobility is getting any better.

Can you pass this test? Here’s a simple test to see how you’re improving:

The goal is to move as far away from the wall as you can without the knee rolling in (think about pushing the knee straight ahead) and without the heel lifting up.  Ideally you want to work up to being 4-5 inches away from the wall while being able to touch your knee to it.

If that was easy for you, then skip the mobility movements and go down to the strength movements listed below:

Mobility Exercises for the Ankle:

Banded Ankle Joint Mobilization

Anchor a band just below your ankle bones and step out so there is a fair amount of resistance on the band. Drive your knee forward over your toes without letting your heels lift up.

Tibial Rotation

This is the same movement as above, but for this exercise start by grabbing just above your ankle bones. As you drive your knee forward over the toes, rotate your shin bone inward as shown.

Downward Dog

Think about pushing your heels flat. The further your feet are from your hands, the more it will challenge your ankle mobility.

Kneeling KB Dorsiflexion

Similar to the test from above, the goal is to drive your knee as far as you can over your toes (without letting the knee come inward) while keeping your heel flat.

Ankle Rotations

The goal here is slow and controlled. Trace as large of a circle as you can, as slowly as you can. Take note of what areas of the range of motion you like to rush through. These are probably the areas that need it the most.

Mobility Exercises for the Ankle:

Heel Raises with Ball Squeeze

For this movement, squeeze the ball hard and think about pushing through your big toe as you lift your heels up. Most people have the tendency to let the weight shift the outside of their foot as they lift up.


Ankle Walks

Walk up on your toes, on your heels, and in and out to both mobilize and strengthen the ankles in multiple positions.

These are some of our favorites when it comes to improving ankle mobility. As mentioned above, there are a lot of factors that come into play when trying to improve mobility in this area.  If you want a more specific assessment as to where your mobility limitations are and how to fix them, contact us to schedule a detailed assessment.

Most people don’t know how to stay healthy and fit without getting hurt. At Inside Out Strength and Performance, we provide a clear plan to get you in the best shape of your life, without getting injured, so that you can be active and confident that you’ll feel your best for years to come.

We help North County San Diego’s active adults and runners dealing with pain or injury get back to living a pain-free, strong, and confident life.

We are the Strength Docs who help active adults and runners live a strong, confident, and pain-free life. Fill out our contact form to get a clear plan and get started.

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