Why is ankle mobility important?
Ankle mobility is huge for basketball players, especially with the large number of ankle sprains that occur each year. Having adequate ankle mobility allows the athlete to improve their movement efficiency, landing mechanics, and shock absorption. As a result, this will decrease their risk for lower body injuries. Assess if you’re at risk of injury by accessing our injury self-assessment tool! Furthermore, studies have shown that each time an athlete sprains their ankle, they lose range of motion, specifically dorsiflexion. In this article we will go over how we can improve ankle mobility.
We are going to address two main sources that limit ankle mobility, which include muscle/tendon or the joint itself. Therefore, if one or both main structures are limited, mobility will be restricted. The muscles that are going to limit ankle dorsiflexion are the calf muscles: mainly the gastrocnemius and soleus. Their main movement is to point your toes or raise up onto your toes. Furthermore, if they are tight, they will limit your ability to dorsiflex, or point your ankle up. The other main limitation source is the ankle joint itself, which is composed of the talocrural, subtalar and the tibiofibular joint, and a capsule that surround each joint. In conclusion, addressing these two main sources will help improve ankle dorsiflexion mobility.
Additionally, after achieving more mobility we need to improve the ankle’s strength and control in this new available range. There is an old saying of “use it or lose it”, meaning if we don’t use the new range of motion, we will not maintain it. That is why we stress doing exercises following stretches. There are multiple ways to maintain ankle mobility, and we will go over a few later in the article!
Improve Muscle Flexibility
One way to improve your flexibility and decreasing restrictions of the calf muscles is performing a self-mobilization. Demonstrated in the video is a self-mobilization technique utilizing a foam roller or lacrosse ball to the calf muscles. As a result of improving flexibility and decreasing restrictions, the athlete will have improved their ability to absorb impact and may reduce their risk for injury.
Furthermore, another great way to improve muscle flexibility is performing dynamic stretching. Demonstrated in the videos are three dimensional, or planes of movement, gastrocnemius and soleus stretching. Keeping the knee straight will bias the gastrocnemius and the knee bent will bias the soleus due to the anatomy. The gastrocnemius crosses the knee joint and the soleus does not. As a result, you can bias one muscle versus the other by just changing your knee position
Parameters: Perform for 1- 2 minute with performing the active release 5 reps at a time.
Self-Mobilization to Ankle Joint to Improve Range of Motion
The ankle joint, as mentioned above, is composed of the talocrural joint, subtalar joint, and tibiofibular joint, and the surrounding capsules. This self-mobilization exercise will focus on the talocrural joint and its capsule because its main movements are dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. The talocrural joint is composed of the tibia bone meeting the talus dome alongside the fibula. To perform this exercise, you will need a strength band, a stable anchor, and a step. In conclusion, performing this exercise will improve your ankle range of motion by allowing proper movement of the talocrural joint and stretching the surrounding capsule.
Parameters: Perform this for 12-15 reps on each ankle.
Strengthening & Motor Control Exercises to Improve Ankle Mobility
After achieving more muscle flexibility and ankle range of motion, we like our athletes to perform exercises to learn how to use and control this new mobility. Provided below are some of the exercises we like using.
One exercise is the single leg anterior reach to single leg romanian deadlift (RDL). We are encouraging your knee to go past your toes because it allows you to go through your new available motion and meet the demands necessary for basketball. Additionally, while performing this exercise, maintain a tripod foot, which means keeping your big toe, little toe and heel down, throughout the entire movement.
Parameters: Perform this for 8 reps on each leg.
Another exercise we like using is a half-kneeling 3-way ankle dorsiflexion exercise. Similar to the anterior reach mentioned above, we want your knee to go past your toes while maintaining a tripod foot. Furthermore, we want to encourage control of the ankle in different planes of movement. The knee will move in 3 different directions: forward over the 2nd and 3rd toe, inward toward the big toe, and outward toward the little toe.
Parameters: Perform this for 5 repetitions each direction on each leg.
Finally, the last exercise we like using is single leg hip swings. The leg that we should be focusing on is your leg on the ground. As a result of your opposite leg swinging side to side, it is creating movement on your stance foot and ankle, and you will need to learn how to control that foot and ankle. We encourage you to maintain a tripod foot the entire time by not allowing your swinging leg to knock you off balance.
Parameters: Perform 15 leg swings before switching to the other ankle.
Try this 3 step ankle dorsiflexion approach to improve efficiency, landing mechanics, and shock absorption, which will decrease risk of lower body injuries.
Terada Masufmi, Pietrosime Brian and Gribble Phillip. Therapeutic Interventions for Increasing ankle dorsiflexion after ankle sprain: A systematic review. 2013