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Foot Fitness: Ankle and Foot Mobility

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woman performing foam rolling on ankle

Did you know having full ankle mobility is one of the best things you can do to prevent injury? The ankle plays a major role in injury prevention as the first major joint that absorbs shock when your foot hits the ground. Learn the basics of ankle mobility and some suggested daily stretches.

Ankle and foot mobility defined
The foot is a complex mechanical structure of the human body. Believe it or not, your foot is composed of 33 joints, 26 bones and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments that all work together to bear weight, allow for locomotion and transmit force. Foot mobility refers to the flexibility of all of the joints of the foot and its surrounding muscles and tendons.

Although the ankle is typically referred to as a single joint, it is actually two joints. The ankle joint is composed of three bones:

  • Tibia (shin bone)
  • Fibula (thinner bone next to the shin bone)
  • Talus (a foot bone that sits above the heel bone)

Ankle mobility refers to the flexibility of the ankle joint and its surrounding muscles and tendons.

Ankle flexibility is important in many sports and training regimens including, but not limited to running and other agility-based sports, weight lifting and swimming. The range of motion in the ankle allows for greater force production, helping an athlete to accelerate and change directions. This range of motion is also important especially in swimming, as a swimmer’s feet are constantly in plantar flexion to produce efficient and powerful kicks.

Mechanics of ankle mobility
To understand the importance of ankle mobility, we need to take a step back and look at the body joint-by-joint. From the ground up, at a basic level, the body is an alternating stack of stable and mobile joints. Lowest to the ground are the ankle joints (mobile), followed by the knee joints (stable), followed by the hips (mobile), then the lower back (stable) and so on. Limited ankle mobility directly affects how well all of the other joints function together.

If you consider the ankle to be the first major joint that absorbs shock when your foot hits the ground, you can see why having full mobility is so important. If ankle mobility is lacking, that shock will be absorbed somewhere further up the chain and may contribute to pain at the knee, hip or even lower back. Limited ankle or foot mobility can lead to a variety of issues or injuries, including plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles tendinopathy, knee and lower back pain and hip and knee injuries.

Lack of ankle dorsiflexion (bringing the front of your foot toward your head or moving your knee over your foot) is a contributing factor to many painful diagnoses throughout the body. 

Recommended ankle stretches
The following three-step daily process is recommended to help improve ankle flexibility and mobility.

  1. Self-myofascial release for the calf and plantar fascia using a foam roller or “The Stick” self-roller massager
     
  2. Stretching of the calf performed against a wall or on a calf board
     
  3. Ankle mobility drill – half kneeling ankle dorsiflexion with a pole

In addition, exercises encouraging increased ankle mobility also help with the body’s ability to perform squats, single-leg squats, lateral step downs or anything landing from a jump.

For some exercises to help stretch your muscles, watch the following Exercise Moves videos.

What to avoid
The most common reason people may have poor dorsiflexion and limited ankle mobility is a past surgery or injury. This makes sense when dealing with big injuries, such as fractures, Achilles tendon rupture and ligament tears from acute sprains. Anything that requires a period of immobilization of the foot can lead to a loss of ankle mobility.

But you don’t need to have a major injury or surgery to see limited mobility. Even mild injuries can lead to a loss of ankle mobility. Ankle sprains, even to a mild degree, seem to be an injury that frequently leads to a loss of dorsiflexion range of motion. Other factors include limited general mobility and shoe choices, especially high-heeled shoes and/or athletic shoes with a heel rise.

Overall mobility will help you to feel and function your best, and the ankle and feet are no exception to this rule. Starting from the ground up, it’s important for the joints to move well so you can complete daily tasks and perform a regular exercise program to stay active as you age.

For more information about professional fitness training at Cooper Fitness Center, visit cooperfitnesscenter.com or call 972.233.4832.