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Mobility Focus: Foot and Ankle

By April 12, 2012No Comments

Today we are going to talk about the ankle and foot joint. ?I’m going to do my best to not bore the heck out of you with detailed anatomy, but some anatomy talk will need to happen. The foot and ankle are incredible and many of you don’t appreciate just how important good mobility is in those joints. ?Did you know that the foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and more then 100 muscles with more then 100 tendons and ligaments? ?There is a ton of structures packed into that small space. ?There is obviously a ton of places where things can go wrong as well. ?By now, if you are still with me, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘Why should I care, my feet don’t hurt.’ ?Did you know that the nagging neck or shoulder problem that you have can possibly be linked to your foot? ?The reason why you are having problems with your overhead squat could possibly be a foot issue. ?Whoa! ?Now i’ve got your attention eh? Let me drop some knowledge on you…

The key to doing any movement that is weight bearing has to do with the Kinetic Chain. ?The Kinetic Chain is the idea that everything from the first point of contact with the ground (the foot) to the next joint (ankle) to the knee, to the hip, to the spine, to the neck, to the head are all connected. If there is limitations or something wrong in just one of those components there will have to be adjustments either up or down stream to take up the slack. ?This is a fact and can not be disputed. ?It also can not be ignored. ?If you have severe limitations in any area, it needs to be worked on, and corrected, and other things will fall into place. ?Now back to the foot and ankle.

There are several different motions that the ankle can move in. ?Here is a video that can show you better then I can type it:

The main issue with ankle mobility in our setting is usually found in limited dorsiflexion. ?When dorsiflexion is limited here are just a few issues that can present themselves…

If the ankle is not moving correctly, the Plantar Fascia can not lengthen and stretch like it is supposed to. ?This will result in contractures and problems like Plantar Fasciitis.

When dorsiflexion is limited it will lead to an entire host of problems with your squat and lunges.

If you have problems with your squats and lunges it can lead to other?problems up the Kinetic Chain including low back problems, upper back problems, chest dropping in squats and knee problems.

If the the knees go in like the video this puts a mechanical disadvantage to the knees, and can lead to all sorts of knee pain and injuries.

There is also a direct correlation of limited dorsiflexion with gluteus activation. ?If your feet are not moving in a good range of motion, your glutes will not function properly. ?This will severely limit any movement that uses them (squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches etc)

Limited ankle mobility specifically dorsiflexion can also cause problems in your shoulders. ?How’s that for unbelievable? Here’s a short explanation of how…

The right ankle doesn’t dorsiflex. ?The right glute doesn’t fire. ?The left scapular stabilizers don’t fire. ?The rotator cuff gets overworked trying to stabilize the humeral head. ?The athlete develops tendonitis or can even have labral tears! ?Here is an interesting article all about it.

Testing your dorsiflexion can let you know which ankle may be causing problems. ?In order for the ankle to function correctly you should be able to have about 0-20 degrees of dorsiflexion. ?The ankle must be able to dorsiflex a minimum of 9-10 degrees for normal walking to occur. ?Here is a great test that will allow you compare to see if you have ankle mobility issues.

Okay, okay I’m sure you probably get it by now, we need to fix the ankle and make it more mobile. ?How you ask? ?You need to work on several different areas. ?The soft tissues which include muscles and tendons will be the first stop. ?Most of the muscles that surround the ankle joint actually begin in the lower leg. ?They go down the inside and outside of your legs and attach at the foot to create ankle motion. ?Some of the major structures that need to be worked on are the Gastrocnemius/ Soleus complex, Achilles Tendon, Tibialis Anterior muscle, the Peroneal group, and the Plantar Fascia. ?Issues with all of these structures can usually be addressed with a lacrosse ball and some self myofascial release techniques. ?I could talk in great depth and detail about what and how to do it, but Kelly Starrett is a genius at self mobilization help. ?I truly have not seen a website, or video series that is more practical and informative then his videos, so I will sit back on this one and let Kelly explain some great ways to accomplish what you are looking for.

The second thing that needs to be addressed is limited motion in the joint itself. ?This can be corrected several different ways, but the Self Mulligan technique is one of my favorites. ?If you were to go to a physical therapist many of them use this technique manually to get the same results. ?Many times you can save yourself the co-pay or?high-deductible now a days and do it yourself. ?Here is a great video by Kelly Starrett about it.

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As you can see, ankle and foot mobility are extremely important. ?Test yourself, make some changes and see what else is positively influenced. ?If you keep working on it, soon we may be able to crown you Supple Leopard!