It can take many forms – from joint stiffness, calf muscle “tightness”, tissue sliding-surface dysfunction, tight structures at the front of the hip, bony blocks etc.
So where do we start?
Firstly, we need to get stuck into any ankle joint stiffness. This tends to be THE most influential limiter of ankle range, to the point where once that joint has freed we tend to see most feelings of muscle “tightness” resolve as well.
The use of a theraband or powerband is (thankfully) gaining more popularity amongst athletes to great effect.
Before doing the exercise, try doing some deep squats to gauge how that ankle feels to begin with. If that’s too taxing on your knees or hips try just walking around. Take note of how tight the joint feels, where that tightness is and how easy it felt overall. Compare it to your other ankle.
To get started, place the band just above your ankle and anchor it to something that won’t move. Then drag your foot out as far as you feel comfy and plant it on the ground.
Next, step through with your other leg so that you’re in an old-school calf stretch position with your stiff ankle behind you.
Now keeping your foot straight and flat on the ground, rotate your knee outwards as you bend your back leg a little (heel stays down).
You should almost feel like you’re in a basic lunge position – with your heel still down.
You may notice some low ankle tightness or even some subtle “jamming” at the front. Even at the full extremes of your ankle range, you may not even notice a “stretch” if that joint is extra stiff. It might just reach an end point.
Now we want to spend some time in this position. Aim for at least 2 minutes if you feel you can tolerate it, if not – do what you can.
In order to get the most out of the exercise we want to engage any restricted musculature at the same time. Try and tense all of your foot and ankle muscles and hold it for 5-10 seconds, repeating periodically. To do this, try and make a fist with your foot, or push it down into the ground. If done correctly you should feel the tissue around the joint being put to work.
Once completed, dismount and have a walk around. Try doing some deep squats again. What do you feel?
This exercise is by far the most powerful ankle mobiliser we have seen. It’s an exercise that should provide you with IMMEDIATE results. If you are taking the time to do it, you deserve to see that change. If not we need to work out why.
Please be mindful that if new to the exercise it can feel a little brutal, but please stick with it. Those tissues will continue to give as long as you persist. It is completely safe and you should expect to feel that immediate change despite how stiff it may be or how long it may have been there.
Keep at it for a week and let us know how you’ve gone.
Remember – the key to solving those ongoing leg issues shouldn’t involve just treating the painful area. If you’re missing some crucial aspects of your lower leg function, it’s hard to expect things to disappear forever.