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Are Stiff Ankles Holding You Back?

Are you constantly having knee pain when exercising? No matter how much you foam roll your quads or stretch your hamstrings, does your knee pain keep coming back? What about a “pinching hip” in the bottom of your squat? How about low back pain after a high volume of air squats??


As a Physical Therapist, I encounter situations like this all the time. Day in and day out, I see highly motivated individuals that have tried everything to help decrease their knee, hip and back pain. I often receive a puzzled look from my patients when I assess their ankle mobility during their initial evaluation. 


The ankle joint is meant to be VERY MOBILE. The ankle joint moves in all three planes, especially in the sagittal plane, moving the joint up and down. When we walk, squat, lunge, jump and land, our ankle MUST have the ability to bend (also known as dorsiflexion). If our ankle does not have enough dorsiflexion the joints above and below the ankle WILL start to compensate.

For example, during a squat the ankle is meant to bend in the bottom of a squat, allowing the knee to come over the toes in order to keep an upright torso position. If the ankle does not bend, the body will compensate by moving the knee into a faulty position (knee collapse) or cause the hip/back/pelvis to move more than they anatomically should (“butt wink”). Now you may get away with these compensations for short periods or time, but, when done in a repeated manner over weeks or years, various anatomical structures of the knee, hip and back may start to break down.


We cannot simply focus on the one area of the body that is in pain. We need to look global to find what link to the kinetic chain is causing the issue! The role of ankle flexibility during lower body movements is commonly undervalued and why I felt the need to write this blog article!


I recently taught and ankle mobility course at CrossFit Loveland. This 60 minute course covered everything from the importance of ankle mobility to ways to measure/improve ankle stiffness.


I have attached some excerpts from the course to give you the knowledge and tools to assess and treat your ankle for maximum performance! The first video highlights the importance of ankle dorsiflexion when squatting and what compensations may come from lack of ankle bend



A key piece of the course was educating members with a way to measure and reassess your ability to bend (aka dorsiflex) your ankle. This easy test will give an objective value to continually reassess if your ankle dorsiflexion is improving over time.


Now that you have tools to assess ankle dorsiflexion, what the heck do you do to improve your ankle bend?? The next video is, in my opinion, the BEST WAY to improve ankle dorsiflexion. Foam rolling and stretching your calf has ZERO effect on the ankle joint moving underload. Yes addressing soft tissue restrictions can help improve some ankle bend, but what is really needed is mobilizations to the JOINT!!!



1 set of 20 each side for 2 second hold. Especially for those of you who have significant restrictions in ankle bending (less than 2 inches on the knee to wall test), this movement needs to be done 4-5 x/week for efficient and sustained results. This movement is an absolute MUST on any days when you are squatting or lunging!

Remember, the body is a kinetic chain and one "kink" in the chain can cause issues in the body above and/or below the problematic site! Unlock the ankle, your feet, knees, hips and back will thank you!


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