Too often people try to improve their ankle mobility solely with a calf stretch. Often, their are ankle joint limitations that are the culprit rather than your calf. In order to improve, one must address those limitations with the proper exercises. Hands on manual Physical Therapy is very effective at helping improve this, but there are some things you can do on your own too!
First, find out if you have the right mobility and what could possibly be limiting it:
If you pass this test and your mobility is fine, skip down to the strength stuff below! If you don’t pass the test and need to improve your mobility, proceed with this playlist of exercises. If you feel a stretch in the back of your ankle/calf, perform the two stretches, however, if you feel a pinch or pressure in front of your ankle, your best bet is to perform the self mobilizations.
After doing these, make sure to reassess with the wall test and see your improvement. Often, if you just do these, you will have some transient improvements and later lose some of those improvements. We know that mobility and flexibility limitations are not always because tissues are actually that tight, but because your body guards you from going farther due to lack of confidence in that position.
The best way to get it to stick is to work strength and repetitions into your new range of motion with proper strengthening exercises. Ideally you’d do at least 3 sets, and more if you’re able. Once you strengthen through your full available ROM, your brain will remember you were capable of that task and that will tend to allow you to maintain your gains more so than just stretching alone. We call this, “Strengthen to Lengthen”! Pick 1-2 of the squat exercises and perform the gastroc and soleus heel raises off the step at the end of the videos to maximize strength through full ankle range of motion.
After performing your self mobilizations and then strength routine focused on deep ankle mobility to lock it in, reassess the wall test above and you should notice improvement. The strength routine in addition to the mobilizations should help you maintain those improvements better that just the mobilizations alone.
If you feel like you could further improve your local foot and ankle strength, you can work through this progression to compliment the more functional exercises above.
If you’re not quite able to make enough improvements on your own, schedule an appointment with a Physical Therapist. We have some excellent manual therapy techniques that can help improve your ankle mobility and then we can give you mobilization and strength exercises specific to your needs.
Either way, with the exercises above or needing a little more specific guidance from your Physical Therapist, you can get your ankles moving to help open up your squats, stairs, and most other movements in life!
Happy ankle mobilizing and strengthening!
Dr. Dane Happeny, PT, DPT, OCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist