Ankle Mobility and How It’s Effecting Your Daily Life

By Neil Kitzmiller, ACE Certified Personal Trainer

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Modern day life has made living easier for us all, there’s no denying that. However, what if I told you that even with all these great tools around us, your body is actually becoming less and less efficient as the days go by? The truth of the matter is this; even with all these great advances in modern living, the best machine that we have (our own body), is breaking down.

The talocrural joint (more commonly referred to as the “ankle joint”) is located on the lower portion of your body where your foot and shin meet. Formed by the tibia and fibula in the leg as well as the talus in the foot, the ankle joint is a “hinge joint” in which movement only occurs in the sagittal plane. More simply put, the ankle joint only moves forward and back. Yes, your ankle does have the ability to laterally move, but those movements (eversion and inversion) are caused by the subtalar joint. For this article, we will be focusing solely on the ankle joint.  

Different locations in the body are responsible for different functions as far as mobility and stability are concerned. The ankle joint is meant to be mobile allowing for movement forward (plantarflexion) and backwards (dorsiflexion). An easy way to think about it is like this; the ankle joint is what allows your foot to bend forward and backwards while walking. The issue we often run into in today’s society is that the ankle joint is becoming less and less mobile in individuals, and this results in an interruption of daily activities. As this process of ankle joint tightening is not sudden, unless caused by trauma or other outside forces, most people will not realize the joint is tightening until the lack of mobility now present rears its head. 

A study conducted in the early 1990s showed that clients with diabetes mellitus “showed less ankle mobility, ankle movement, ankle power, velocity, and stride length” while walking then the normal clients did, and these issues were shown to be the “primary factor contributing to the altered walking patterns” of those with diabetes mellitus (Mueller, Minor, Sahrmann, Schaaf, Strube, 1994). While most of us do not suffer from the effects of diabetes mellitus or other issues like it, we all have to be aware of the implications that a decrease in ankle mobility can create. The last thing we want is to be walking down the street and completely trip and fall, resulting in injury, all because our ankle joint does not possess the ability to plantarflex and dorsiflex that is needed. 

In order to see what implications your ankle mobility, or lack thereof, might have on your daily life, perform this simple test. Facing a wall, lower yourself down so that one foot is flat with that same knee up, and the other foot is behind you with your toes in the ground. Then, make a “thumbs up” sign with your hand. Keep that hand position as you place the edge of your thumb on the wall. Now, move your foot forward until your big toe is touching the base of your hand. Place both hands on your knee is that in the air, and this is your starting position. Keeping your heel down on the ground, push your knee as far as you can into the wall. The goal is to get your knee to touch the wall without your ankle coming up. If you cannot get your knee to the wall, you have a lack of ankle mobility.

To fix your ankle mobility, refer to where you felt the movement while each foot was down. If you felt more of a stretch in the calf muscles, then your issue might be as simple as tight gastrocnemius or soleus muscles resulting in a lack of ankle dorsiflexion. However, if you felt a pinching sensation in the front of the ankle, then you are running into some actual ankle joint issues in which the best thing to do is talk to a fitness professional to see what needs to be done. The good news, neither result is permanent as long as they are addressed.

There are so many reasons why your ankle joint is tight that the list is too long to include in this article. Varying from sitting down all day long to wearing high heel shoes at work, the ankle joint is very sensitive and needs to be moved around in both plantarflexion and dorsiflexion, or you risk injury in daily life doing the most simple things. Seems like a pretty silly reason to end up in the hospital, right?

 

Mueller, Michael J, et al. “Differences in the Gait Characteristics of Patients With Diabetes and Peripheral Neuropathy Compared With Age-Matched Controls | Physical Therapy | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Apr. 1994, academic.oup.com/ptj/article-abstract/74/4/299/2729236

Cliff Long