How to Improve Ankle Mobility and Stability
In order to improve ankle mobility, we need to look at the key muscles associated with the foot and ankle complex. If you are someone that does a lot of running (more than 5 miles a week) or hiking, ankle mobility is very important.
Lack of ankle mobility and stability can cause an increase in the risk of developing plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendon tears, shin splints, sprained ankle, tendinosis etc. Remember every time you take a step, your foot is the first thing to come in contact with the surface. If the muscles that surround and support the foot and ankle complex are dysfunctional, it will cause faulty movement patterns and compensations throughout the rest of your body.
Shown below are the muscles we are going to focus on. They are the muscles that surround the ankle joint and have a big impact on ankle stability.
Flexor Hallucis Longus
Release muscles surrounding the ankle joint
Use a massage stick to access the muscles shown above. You can dictate how much pressure you apply on the muscles but be sure you put enough pressure to feel for any tender spots you may have.
Release Attachments at the Foot
This is important. As I mentioned, your foot is the first structure coming in contact with the ground. It’s easy for tension to build at the bottom of your foot, although you may not feel it until you apply direct pressure. Rolling out the attachments at underneath your foot should provide a great deal of relief. You can use a lacrosse ball for this technique or anything similar.
Stretch the Calf and Soleus Muscles
After releasing tension with the massage stick and lacrosse ball, hold a 45-60 second calf/soleus stretch to increase the often shortened muscles. This stretch will also the target the Achilles tendon. Stretching these muscles will help prevent plantar fasciitis as well.
Strengthen The Ankle Joint
Muscle activation is important! Not only are we strengthening the muscles but we are strengthening the tendons and ligaments that surround the ankle joint which is crucial for preventing injury. Do each exercise twice for 20 reps.
Balance Exercises to Improve Ankle Stability
Finger Follows With a Staggard Stance
With this exercise please note the further your legs are the easier it will be, conversely, the closer your legs are the more difficult it will be. Make sure you follow your finger the whole time. After you master this exercise, try it while closing your eyes.
Heel touches places a focus on both ankle mobility and stability. This exercise will be more difficult to perform on an unstable surface so start on the ground then advance to an unstable surface once you master the movement on the ground. Slowly lower your heel to touch the floor, this is not meant to be a rapid movement.
Standing Leg Swings
This exercise is good for balance and hip range of motion. To increase the difficulty you can close your eyes, use an unstable surface, or both!
Just some tips:
If you sleep on your stomach, the first thing your should do in the morning is a nice gentle calf stretch. Sleeping with the top of your feet on the bed means your calf and soleus were in the shortened positions for an extended period of time which could be a reason why your calves feel so stiff in the morning.
If you do a lot of driving, especially with stop and go traffic, the pressing of the break to gas and gas to break involves your lower leg muscles to activate frequently. Make sure you do some stretching after a long drive.
Walking and hiking often leave people with sore lower leg muscles. If you are someone that likes to walk and hike frequently you are more prone to developing tension in your lower legs.