How to improve your Ankle Dorsiflexion

What is Ankle Dorsiflexion?

It is the movement where the ankle (talocrural joint) is bent in a backwards direction.

.. and why is it so important?

Having full ankle dorsiflexion is ESSENTIAL in your posture and movement.

This is especially true for when you are moving! (walking, running, squatting and jumping)

Why?

… Because restricted ankle mobility will lead to undesirable compensations throughout your entire posture!

What limits your ankle dorsiflexion?

1. Tight calf muscles:


Image from EpainAssist.

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus
  • Achilles tendon

2. Tight ankle joints:


Image from SCOI

Limited ankle mobility in your joints can restrict the total amount of dorsiflexion available.

 

3. Neural tension:

Did you know nerves can get tight too?

(Well… not the actual nerve itself,  but the connective tissue that surrounds it)

… This can actually limit your ankle mobility as well!

How do you measure your ankle dorsiflexion?

Knee to Wall test:

Instructions:

  • Face a wall.
  • Perform a lunge.
    • Whilst keeping your knee in contact with the wall, aim to get the front of your foot furthest away from the wall.
    • (Don’t cheat! Make sure the back of your heel does not lift off!)
    • Maintain your foot arch,
  • Measure the distance between the tip of your big toe and the wall.

What should I aim for?

My recommendation: Aim to get your toe approximately >8cm from the wall with your knee still in contact with the wall.


Where do you feel the restriction?

The area where you feel the stiffness/restriction in your ankle should be the area you focus most of your attention on.

a) Front of ankle: Your ankle dorsiflexion is limited by a Joint restriction.

b) Back of ankle: Your ankle dorsiflexion is limited by a Tendon restriction.

c) Back of calf: Your ankle dorsiflexion is limited by Neural tension and/or Muscular restriction.


 

How to improve ankle dorsiflexion


Image courtesy of usamedeniz at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Note: All exercises are designed to be performed with nil pain! If you have any doubt, please feel free to catch me on the facebook page.

Note 2: With any exercise where your foot is on the ground, try to make sure that your foot does NOT roll inwards (pronate). This movement is usually a compensation of limited dorsiflexion!


1. Warm up:

a) Ankle circles

Instructions:

  • Draw a large circle with your ankle.
  • Aim to firmly push the outer edges of this circle as much as possible
    • Focus especially on the movement when you are bringing your foot up towards you.
    • You might hear some clicking. As long as it isn’t painful, keep going!
  • Repeat 20 times in each direction.

2. Releases:

a) Calf

Instructions:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  • Place one leg over the other.
  • Place the calf of the bottom leg on a foam roller.
  • Apply a downward pressure.
  • Roll your leg up/down the entire calf.
  • Duration: 1-3 minute

b) Achilles tendon

Instructions:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  • Place the back of your achilles tendon on a ball.
  • Apply a downward pressure.
    • You can apply additional pressure by placing your other leg on top.
  • Rock your foot from side to side.
  • Duration: 1-3 minute

3. Stretches:

a) Gastrocnemius

Instructions:

  • Stand on the edge of a step.
  • Lower both of your heels.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in your calf muscle.
  • Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Soleus

Instructions:

  • Assume the lunge position.
  • Sink your body weight on top of your back leg.
  • Think about getting your shin bone as close to the floor as possible.
    • Do not lift your heel!
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the back of your calf.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

4. Joint mobilisation

a) Traction

Instructions:

  • Note: To perform this exercise, you will need the assistance. So – go grab a good friend!
  • Lie on the floor.
  • Instruct your friendly helper to firmly grasp your ankle below the bony bits on the side. (see above)
  • Relax your leg as your assistant pulls your foot away from you.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Dorsiflexion with band

Instructions:

  • Attach a band to something behind you. (Make sure it doesn’t move!)
  • Lace the band around your ankle.
    • Make sure the band is below the bumps on side of the ankle.
  • Assume the lunge position with your ankle on a bench. (see above)
  • Lunge forward.
  • Make sure there is a firm amount of tension on the band.
  • Repeat 30 times.

 

5. Strengthening exercises

You might be wondering:

“What has strengthening got to do with increasing ankle dorsiflexion? Isn’t it just about stretching and stuff?”

… It has a lot to do with it!

If you do not have the muscular control over the full range of motion of your ankle joint,  the body will not allow you to go into those ranges. (… it’s a protective mechanism!)

a) Seated Dorsiflexion holds

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, slightly slide your foot underneath you whilst keeping your foot flat.
  • Lift the front part of your foot off the floor.
  • Aim to feel the activation of the muscles in the front of your shin.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

b) Eccentric drop

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, lift the front part of your feet off the floor.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • With control, slowly lower your foot.
  • Repeat 30 times.

6. Nerve flossing

Instructions:

  • Place your foot on a bench.
  • Keep your leg completely straight.
  • Lean forwards at the hips.
  • Point and bend your ankle.
  • Aim to feel a deep stretch anywhere along the back of your leg.
  • Repeat 20 times.

Common questions:

// How often should I perform these exercises?

As many times as you can.

I recommend you adopt the “More the merrier!” strategy!

There is no reason why you could not do these exercises every day.

At a bare minimum, I recommend doing them at least 1/week.

 

// How long will it take to fix?

This is a very common, but very difficult question to answer.

Why?

… Everyone is different!

If you work at it, you will see small improvements every week.


… Any other questions? 

Feel free to post a comment below.

I’ll get back to you!

 

About

I am a physiotherapist who has personally experienced the pain as a result of bad posture. I would like to offer you some of the solutions that I and my patients have greatly benefited from.

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2 thoughts on “How to improve your Ankle Dorsiflexion

  1. Hi Mark,
    I do also have bow legs, they literally look like ( ) in fornt of a mirror. I have heard that vitD lackness results in that but it can’t be possible. I had enough sunbathing and my nutrition was good in my childhood. So I guess it can only be postural and I find some websites pointing that, however I don’t find them as reliable as your blog. Thank you for all of this by the way. My question is, do these moves would help fixing that problem too?

    1. Hi Ekrem,

      If you have high arches and lack of ankle dorsiflexion, it may have caused (or have been caused by) the bow legs. These exercise will help in this case.

      Do you play a sport?

      Mark

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