Some of us may forget about our ankles when thinking about the most critical joints in the body. Believe it or not, a little attention to ankle dorsiflexion can go a long way.
Improved flexion of the foot can be helpful in several workout routines. It assists in squatting and sprinting and even in strength training exercises. During workout sessions, people with better flexion are less prone to knee, hip, and low-back injuries.
In contrast, when you don’t have a good range of motion in the ankle, your joints and other tissues have to bear unnecessary stress. This may lead to issues like hip pain, knee pain, and a higher risk of ankle sprains.
Before finding ways to improve ankle dorsiflexion and enhance your physical performance, let’s discover what it is and why it is significant!
What is Dorsiflexion of the Ankle?
The ankle is a hinge joint that enables the foot to move in a sagittal plane. There are two specific movements in this plane – plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. The foot’s movement towards the top of the foot, near the shin, is called dorsiflexion.
You can contract the shin bones and flex the ankle joint when you dorsiflex your foot. You can also dorsiflex your ankles by lifting the ball of your foot above the ground in a standing position while keeping the heel fixed on the ground.
Why is Ankle Dorsiflexion Important?
Dorsiflexion is essential because it enables the shin bone to move forward freely. If this bone is stuck in a vertical position, it may compel the top of your body to lean forward to compensate for the lack of mobility in the ankle during squatting. (1)
When the tibia is stuck in a vertical position, and the chest is forward, it may also decrease the ability to create force through the hips for driving heavy loads. People with this condition may fail to reach their maximum potential during lifts because the force direction is not efficiently applied.
Dorsiflexion is also crucial for splinters. Their potential to lift the foot from the ground and apply force when it strikes the ground may boost their speed and efficiency even when running. (2)
There is ample evidence to prove that poor ankle mobility can impact several hip and knee injuries. An individual with poor ankle dorsiflexion has a higher chance of suffering from torn ACL than someone with better mobility in that area. (3)
What Limits the Ankle Dorsiflexion?
Tension in the soft tissues of calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles) is likely to limit the motion range of ankle joints. Also, ankle injuries may affect the ankle range of motion due to the pain in these joints and scar tissue formation.
Injuries that may limit ankle dorsiflexion include shin splints, ligament tears, arthritis, plantar fasciitis, fractures, and ankle sprains.
Any issues in the legs that have caused a temporary change in the way of walking can create ankle mobility problems. For example, a knee or hip injury may often cause temporary limping. This can lead to issues in the ankles too.
Despite the causes, focusing on this part of the body during warm-up or post-workout sessions can significantly help individuals to tackle the situation. Keep reading to find out ankle dorsiflexion exercises to strengthen your ankles and help you ace every physical routine.
How to Test Ankle Dorsiflexion?
One should go for ankle dorsiflexion exercises after knowing they are lacking in that joint. So, how do you know your ankle needs some strengthening, and what can you do about it?
Following are some quick tests you can do to evaluate if your ankle mobility is where it should be:
Try to squat a few times. If you have trouble hanging out at the bottom position of the squat because you can’t balance there with heels planted on the floor, this indicates ankle mobility problems.
Keep your feet together and lift the balls of your feet from the ground without leaning backward. If you can’t do it, this is another indication that your ankle dorsiflexion needs improvement.
Bring your knee near the wall. Then, place the foot of your leg that isn’t kneeling and position it about five inches away from the wall. Lean into the front leg and try to touch that knee with the wall without moving your foot. If that knee touches the wall, there isn’t any problem with your dorsiflexion.
If you pass all these evaluations, it indicates that your ankle dorsiflexion doesn’t need any improvement. But if you struggle with one or more of these exercises, you need to learn a few methods to work on it.
How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion?
Having an adequate amount of dorsiflexion isn’t only required in sports. It is an ability you need even during regular functional movements.
If you are having trouble with ankle flexion, you should learn exercises for ankle dorsiflexion and follow them without any delays. You can either opt for yoga poses, such as:
- Chair pose
- Camel pose
- Child’s pose
Stretching of the calves can also allow people to improve their ankle movement. This allows loosening and stretching of the larger muscles affecting ankle movement.
Furthermore, ankle mobility exercises like making a circle in both directions with the ankles and moving them sideways are also quite helpful.
The following movements of toes and legs may help to improve ankle dorsiflexion.
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- Pull your toes back toward the top of your foot while you are barefoot
- Then, stand and face the wall
- Position the toes of one foot and lean it against the wall with the foot kept at an angle
- Then gradually shift your weight backward
- Now, keep your heels close and lift your toes a bit higher
- Repeat stretches on the other side
- Begin with a stretch. The ankle circles help to improve your motion range, and you can perform them in a sitting and standing position.
- Keep a rolled foam or towel beneath your ankle
- Turn your ankle in a circular motion. Make ten clockwise and ten anti-clockwise circles.
- Move your ankle and foot without moving your legs
- Vary this stretch by tracing out alphabetical letters with your bigger toe
Single Leg Balance
- Stand on the ground while keeping your feet at a shoulder distance. Keep a chair or stand near the wall for support.
- Hold your arms to your sides while standing on one foot
- Perform this exercise daily and try increasing the duration when you start gaining more balance on each foot
- When you can balance on one foot for a minute, vary this exercise with the following:
– Balance with your eyes closed
– Balance with arms at each side
– Balance by standing on an unstable surface like a pillow or balancing disc
- Repeat this exercise one or two times each day
You can integrate this exercise into your daily routine. For example, you can try standing on one foot while waiting for the metro or brushing your teeth.
Standing Heel Lifts
- Stand with your feet kept at a shoulder distance. Ensure that you stand near the wall or have a chair nearby for support.
- Lift your heels from the floor, so you stand on the balls of your feet
- Slowly lower your heels on the floor while maintaining your balance
- Perform 2 or 3 sets of 10 lifts in each round
You can add resistance in this routine by holding weights while you lift your heels
- Sit and interlace your fingers around the bottom of the foot
- Extend your legs outwards in the front
- Use hands to draw toes back towards the shin
- Repeat the same movements on the other side
This workout can be done with or without shoes. It is one of the ankle-strengthening exercises that enhances the function of ankles and feet. To do this routine, you have to:
- Walk for 30 feet while standing on your toes
- Turn around and walk back while standing on your heels
- Repeat this 3 to 5 times
You can easily incorporate this exercise into your daily routine. For instance, you can toe-walk toward the kitchen during household chores.
Lunges can strengthen the ankles and help to improve balance. There are several types of lunges that you can perform. Initially, you may want to keep it easy and progress toward the complex steps later. A few ways to improve ankle dorsiflexion muscles with lunges are:
- Keep one foot in front of the other, and point the toes forward
- Ensure that your back stays straight during the entire routine
- Bend the back knee downwards, so it slightly touches the floor
- Then, push your body up again
- Repeat this exercise ten times and complete two sets
Try to vary the static lunge and the leading leg. Take three steps between lunges and alternate your forward leg.
Walking lunges helps with dorsiflexion of the ankle by working on the core and lower body. When you first attempt this movement you should learn it from a professional trainer to ensure you are doing it correctly.
To do this exercise, you have to:
- Step forward with a single leg and bend the knee at a right angle
- Simultaneously, you have to lower the back knee on the ground so the thigh is almost parallel to the ground
- Hold in this position for a few seconds
- Now, take a step forward with the back leg and repeat the lunge with this other leg
- Complete up to 10 lunges on each leg
One of the simpler techniques to counter ankle mobility problems includes the self-myofascial release technique. This exercise can be performed using a kettlebell or foam roller.
Here is how you can do this exercise:
- Place your Achilles on the top of the foam roller or kettlebell handle, then move your foot from one side to another
- If you wish to apply more pressure at a certain point, place one foot on top of the other to do this
- Gradually, take this movement towards the calf while moving the foot and leg from side to side. This will help to hit the medial and lateral parts.
- Make sure you spend one to two minutes working on each leg.
A foam roller does an incredible job of improving ankle dorsiflexion. It allows you to turn and move the body without any friction.
How Plyometrics Help to Improve Ankle Stability?
Another kind of movement that helps with dorsiflexion of the ankle involves jumping movements. These exercises allow you to reach maximum force in as little time as possible.
It would help if you had the fundamental physical strength to start this exercise. Again, it would help if you get assistance from a professional trainer, as a specific form is required to complete each exercise.
Warm yourself up before you begin any of these exercises.
Some jumping movements to help with ankle dorsiflexion include:
Single Leg Hoops
- Stand straight and keep your arms at your sides
- Jump straight on one leg and raise your arms when you lift
- Repeat this movement ten times
- Double Leg Hoops
- Stand straight and keep your arms at your sides
- Jump straight in the air and lift your arms upwards
- Repeat this movement ten times
- Stand straight while keeping your hands on your hips
- Jump straight upwards without bending your knees
- Flex ankles and pull the toes during the jump
- Extend your ankles backward right before you contact the floor
- Push the balls of your feet into the floor and then jump up again. Try keeping your feet on the floor for as little time as possible.
- Start with a few reps in each set and perform 2 or 3 sets in one session
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What Are the Benefits of Ankle Strengthening Exercises?
When done correctly, ankle dorsiflexion exercises may bring the following perks your way:
Increased Movement Awareness
Your body is likely to be more conscious of its movements when you regularly perform ankle dorsiflexion exercises. This means that it prevents you from making a wrong movement that could perhaps twist your ankle.
Exercises that help to strengthen your ankles may also strengthen the larger leg muscles. These, in turn, allow you to achieve a proper walking gait.
Relief from High-Heel Stress
If you wear high heels for an extended period, it creates stress on your heels. Ankle dorsiflexion exercises can help to deal with this stress.
How to Work Out Safely?
Ankle dorsiflexion exercises go a long way to improve your balance and physical performance. One should be very careful when curating a routine for themselves to keep all kinds of injuries at bay.
An ideal step is to consult a professional trainer who will evaluate your physique and help you to create an effective exercise program. Select movements and tools that help you to get complete control of your body. When performing any exercise, you should instantly focus on your body and halt the movement when you feel pain or discomfort.
To see continual progress, ensure that you are resting adequately, consuming a nutritious meal, and warming up before you initiate. The results will be based on your correct form, consistency, and diet patterns.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are many different exercises for ankle dorsiflexion. You may have to play around to find what works for your physique. Remember, flexible ankles will strengthen the base that holds you upright. Even non-athletes need strong ankles to improve their balance and stability, which is vital to prevent falls.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Effect of limiting ankle-dorsiflexion range of motion on lower extremity kinematics and muscle-activation patterns during a squat (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Rehabilitation of Ankle and Foot Injuries in Athletes (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anterior cruciate ligament injury and ankle dorsiflexion (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)