Sunday 1 July 2018

Dorsiflexion - The importance of ankle mobility

Having troubles with your squats or deadlifts? Do your knees collapse inwards during leg exercise? Need to do exercises with your heels on weight plates to get better range of motion? Good bet that you're suffering from a lack of ankle dorsiflexion, which is the ability of your foot and shin to move closer together.

Lack of mobility in the ankle can cause problems and functional compensations that radiate up throughout your entire kinetic system not just affecting your knee and hip alignment. Concurrently the hip itself can also affect ankle mobility.

Causes of poor dorsiflexion

Common causes of poor ankle mobility include modern foot wear especially in the case of high heels for ladies, which puts the foot in an extended state of plantar flexion, sitting habits and over focusing on the calf muscles whilst ignoring the muscles at the front of the shin, causing muscular imbalances in the agonist-antagonist relationship.

By Connexions ( [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a very slight possibility that a lack of ankle dorsiflexion could be down to anatomical reasons such as bone spurs, which would require surgery to improve.

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Problems caused by poor dorsiflexion

Poor ankle dorsiflexion ability can lead to the follow problems when performing movements that involve the legs:

  • Rising up onto the balls of your feet, such as most people do when kneeling down.
  • Rounding of your back, thus putting pressure on your spine.
  • Foot pronation, which leads to the knee moving inwards created a collapsed knee position.
  • Some lifters pronate their foot to improve their ankle dorsiflexion however this is problematic and not ideal, and leads to issues further up your kinetic chain.

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Assessing your ankle dorsiflexion

One study suggests that non-weight-bearing ankle-dorsiflexion range lies between 0 to 16.5 degrees, and for weight-bearing 7.1 to 34.7 degrees. It along with this study suggests that you shouldn't use weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing measurements interchangeably and that the former should be used.

A common test for assessing your ankle dorsiflexion mobility is the half-kneelng dorsiflexion test, which classifies as a weight-bearing test:

  • Firstly place the foot you are assessing 5" from a straight wall, preferably without foot wear.
  • Then adopt a half-kneeling position, just as if you were going to do a hip-flexor stretch.
  • From this position lean forward whilst keeping your lead foot completely flat against the floor and see if you can reach the wall.
  • If you can't then you have limitation in your ankle dorsiflexion. If you can then your ankle is pretty mobile, which is what we want.
  • If you can't touch the wall from 5" then you can shorten the distance between the lead foot and the wall to find out just how far you can reach and have a benchmark to retest later after performing ankle dorsiflexion mobility drills.

Another simple test is the ankle-dorsiflexion dowel test:

  • Kneel down onto one knee, maintaining a 90 degree angle at the knee.
  • Hold a dowel or similar item vertical to the floor, positioned just in front of your fourth toe, and lean forward until your knee touches the dowel.
  • Now, whilst keeping your foot flat on the ground maintaining heel contact with the floor at all times, move your knee to the outside of the dowel for as far as you can to the point were you can no longer keep your foot fully planted.
  • If you can move your lower leg at least half way past the dowel without fault then your dorsiflexion is good. If not then you need to do some work on it.

The following article by FunctionalMovement contains the best video demonstration of this test. All the YouTube videos I've been able to see of this test so far are poor in execution. Dorsiflexion from Half Kneeling with Dowel.

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Closing thoughts

That's it for Part One folks. Hopefully this has helped shed some light on an often overlooked issue that affects quite a few people. If your dorsiflexion is good then great, however if not then stay tuned for Part Two, which will provide methods for increasing your ankle dorsiflexion ability.

Any questions of queries then feel free to ask away in the comments section or send me some feedback!

Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


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