When talking about mobility, one of the biggest overlooked regions of the body is the ankle. And that's a huge problem because it can cause pain, injury, and sub-performance anywhere in the body. You'll see these effects in plantar fasciitis, knee pain, squat form, and running.
Plantar Fasciitis (pain in the arch or heel of the foot) is a very common result of ankle mobility limitations. When walking and running, the ankle HAS to move a certain amount (10 degrees of dorsiflexion if you were wondering). When that mobility is not available, somewhere else has to compensate and move more. Very often, this extra movement comes from the foot. Yep, you've probably heard of pronation of the foot. That extra movement of the arch collapsing causes abnormal stress in the muscles and fascia of the foot. Now imagine that force on every single step that you take while walking and running. No wonder it can lead to pain! The answer? Don't know exactly without a full assessment, but chances are you have some tight ankles that need mobilizing.
Now, lets continue up the chain to the knee. Remember how the arch of the foot caves in when the ankle is tight? It doesn't just stop at the foot. That excess movement at the foot makes a biomechanical fault at the knee also - it causes way too much turning in, or "Valgus" of the knee. Very often, this will result in pain at the inside of the knee.
Squat form is probably the most notable mechanical fault caused by bad ankle mobility because it is so easy to see. When we squat, we get into nearly maximal flexion at the hip, knees, and ankles. When the ankles are tight, a common fault is lifting the heels or turning the feet outward. Why is this bad? Think of the weight you are moving around and what structures are now weight bearing. The heel is supposed to accept over 50% of the load while squatting. If it isn't in contact with the ground anymore, the forces are ALL going through the forefoot. And the forefoot isn't designed to do that! That's way too much force going through small bones. So not only are you increasing your risk of injury, but you are also SIGNIFICANTLY decreasing the amount of force you can generate through your legs. That means you won't lift as much weight. If you don't really care about increasing injury, at least think of the performance limitation your bad ankles are causing.
I think I've already made my point that you absolutely need more ankle mobility, but I can't leave out runners, because runners think they are a special breed and nothing applies to them. Runners, check out point #1: Plantar Fasciitis, and #2: knee pain. Those both definitely apply to you. But runners will be runners and just run through pain. So let's talk performance. YES! Ankle mobility can and will decrease your pace, efficiency, and longevity. Do I have your attention now?? Running form is as varied as squat form - everyone is built and moves differently. But we all have the same basic requirements. We need that ankle mobility to make sure our body is moving as efficiently as possible. Ankle mobility deficits will cause excess pronation of the foot and an internal rotation pattern of the lower extremity during stance phase. That means that the body has to readjust during swing phase. So when you are supposed to be generating power during the swing phase, your hips are moving from an internally rotated position to a slight externally rotated position. Once it gets there it INSTANTLY is required to activate to stabilize your hips. If it doesn't stabilize you will then get a bit of hip drop. Hip drop means you cannot generate force for pushoff. Do I have to tell you what happens when you can't pushoff correctly? Yeah, you go slower and waste energy.
So now that we know what bad ankle mobility can do, what's the fix? That's the hard part. Because when Talocrural Joint mobilizations are talked about, it isn't discussed correctly and is definitely not taught correctly.
Here's why - when we want to mobilize the ankle, it needs to be isolated. When the ankle is tight, it is very, very difficult to isolate the ankle. Many of the common foot and ankle stretches do a poor job of that, and you end up mobilizing the foot and the ankle together - or just skip the ankle altogether.
The absolute best way to mobilize the ankle is hands-on, manual therapy - stabilize the foot and give a posterior to anterior grade 3 or 4 mobilization force to the talus.
But what if you don't know what a Grade 3 mobilization is? Or what if you don't have anyone to mobilize your ankle? Do you just live with a tight ankle, a messed up squat, and bad running form? Nope! You adapt and do the best that you can.
This banded mobilization shown in the video above is the best way to modify a talocrural joint mobilization. But be careful to follow the steps closely. You need to do your best to isolate the correct joint and stay in the plane of the joint to get the most out of this mobilization.
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