The Importance of Ankle Dorsiflexion

What Is Ankle Dorsiflexion and Why Is It Important?

The act of bringing your toes upwards towards your shin is called ankle dorsiflexion.  It is important in many day to day tasks such as walking and squatting and happens to be a common dysfunction in the clinical world.  Ankle dorsiflexion can be limited for many different reasons but we will discuss the basics in this article.  For other issues related to the ankle, visit our ankle pain page.

What Causes Poor Dorsiflexion?

ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion

Two of the more common reasons for poor ankle mobility include restriction in the joint and/or tightness of the posterior leg muscles and achilles tendon.  However, the mechanisms for why these occur can vary.  

Genetics can play a role in your mobility as well as your previous injury history.  Individuals that have a history of consistent ankle sprains often have reduced ankle dorsiflexion.  This is especially true if the proper rehab principles were not applied at the time (which is common).  Bone spurs and other bony abnormalities can create impingement, and subsequently, loss of mobility.  Some things can be improved with treatment and exercise, while others cannot.

bruised ankle

OUCH!

Two Common Results of Poor Dorsiflexion

Poor dorsiflexion of the ankle can impact various functions in the human body.  Two of the more common functions are squatting and walking.  In addition to observing movement patterns, ankle dorsiflexion can be evaluated with some simple tests.   Click Here to learn how to perform the Weight-bearing Lunge Test.

Walking

Individuals that have mobility issues at the ankle may demonstrate an "early heel rise" while walking.  Since the ankle has limited dorsiflexion, the proper sequencing of our gait is off.  These people tend to walk with a "bouncy" gait.  In addition to poor ankle mobility, restriction of big toe extension is also likely in these cases.

Squatting

Many people wonder why they can't seem to squat deep while maintaining an upright spine.  They can't help but to lean forward as they squat down.  This is likely due to poor ankle dorsiflexion.  Other compensations observed during the squat include excessive pronation (flattening) of the foot and/or flaring/spinning out of the foot.  These are all examples of the body's workarounds at the foot and ankle and frequently occur in other regions and activities.  These compensations aren't necessarily a bad thing.  However, if they increase the risk of injury and/or decrease performance then they should be addressed.

squat with tight ankles
squatting with heels elevated

As you can see in the above images, I struggle to maintain an upright spine when squatting due to limited ankle mobility.  I typically have to compensate by flaring my feet outwards.  In the second picture, I am able to stay upright because I elevated my heels.  This is a quick fix to address poor ankle dorsiflexion but should not be the end goal.  Eventually, the person should learn to squat without the elevation (if their anatomy allows it).  I will point out, that the first image is not "WRONG".  I should be able to squat and pick up objects with no problem.  However, it is not OPTIMAL.  Once I start adding weight, such as with weight lifting, I may have an increased risk of injury.

How To Improve Ankle Mobility

We use a combination of myofascial treatment and joint manipulation/mobilization to improve ankle mobility.  This can involve tools and cupping or simply just our hands.  Functional exercises are implemented to address the mobility but also to improve stability and control. Below are some exercises drills that can be done on your own.

Passive Approach

Passive dorsiflexion of the ankle should be around 20 degrees (depending on the study). One way to improve ankle mobility involves passive stretching and/or mobilizing the ankle.  These are easy to perform and do not require special equipment.  I don't think that we are impacting the range of motion in the ankle with these drills but rather impacting the brain by making it comfortable to be in these new positions.  It is likely more neurological than structural.  In addition to the mobility drills below, you can stretch the gastroc (calf) and soleus muscles.

Active Approach

Active dorsiflexion while walking should be at least 10 degrees.  An active approach involves engaging the muscles that are responsible for ankle dorsiflexion.  We typically start the active drills in easier positions such as sitting and then gradually work our way up to weight bearing positions such as the squat.  The following drills incorporate a combination of concentric, eccentric, and isometric contractions of the ankle dorsiflexors.

How Can Your Chesterfield Chiropractor Help?

Wondering if your ankles may be a source of pain and/or dysfunction?  Give us a call (636-728-8607) to set up a free consultation.  We are your local Chesterfield Chiropractor that aims to not only get our patients out of pain fast, but optimize them so they never have to see us again!  That is the ultimate success.

Move Better. Perform Better. Better Than Before

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