When Mobility Doesn’t Stick

…….articles about dorsiflexion range and risk of ACL injury and also hip strength……I mob and stretch and find that often these types of limitations return so quickly. I am curious if you really get these ankles loosened up or must the athlete continue to address this tightness on a daily basis?

There can be a couple things going wrong if you are working on mobility, achieving it, and then losing it quickly.

1.  You are not achieving it. There are a lot of different ways to appreciate ankle mobility.  I think the 4″ over the toes is an ideal audit that many folks agree on.
What is important in that test is to appreciate the knee tracking in the sagittal plane.  Dropping into pronation will create an illusion of increased excursion of the knee.  Clawing of the toes is also something that can discredit the excursion.

Note the knee to the outside of the stick to make sure you prevent pronation.

2.  You are not using it. There’s definitely a million and one different ways to drive ankle mobility.  In a warmup, either specific or general, consider static before dynamic, slow before fast, simple before complex.  Pick something that drives the ankle in each of those continuums.

3.  You are not integrating it. Once you have restored ankle mobility, I think the importance of the mobility there as well as the other joint systems in the foot makes daily specific work very appropriate.  A steady of diet of sprinting, lunging, deep squats should keep the ankles fresh and proprioceptively charged to be a part of propulsion.

4.  The rest of the body isn’t keeping up. We should look to half-kneeling and dynamic patterns in different combinations of hip and t-spine mobility should keep and regularly improve mobility and stability everywhere in the body.  Keeping ankle mobility can be limited by the rest of the body where as if excursions from the hips or t-spine don’t allow for a big excursion, you will not be “using” the new ankle that you worked on.

I’m not sure you can do too much if you are focusing on the ankles/feet as there is more than the biomechanics that makes wild ankle mobility very advantageous, such as the positive proprioception that the foot is capable of delivering to the entire system.

I’m also not sure manual work is mandatory for maintainence, but cracking the limiting factors as above are all part of the daily solutions.

I won't be the one to say it's total BS. There's some truth here.

  • July 21, 2011

Leave a Reply 5 comments

Aj oliva Reply

Awesome thanks charlie, i seem to lose my arch when mobilizing, until i focus on driving the knee over the pinky toe. If i do the lunge ankle mob followed by something like leg swings in addition to patterning afterwards and foot smr beforehand will that be enough?

Charlie Reply

It sounds like it would be enough, but the best way to find out is to retest yourself during and after the workout and then after you recover.
Let the proof be in the pudding.

Larry Weiland Reply

Charlie, perceptive and thorough as always. Thanks for sharing some of the thoughts swirling around in that brain; must be quite the party going on up there.
It’s clear, as you, Gray Cook, and Mike Boyle have said, that joints don’t operate in their own little vacuums. The proprioceptive conversations that they have–or don’t have–with other joints and with the brain and CNS can make or break effective mobility.
Also, you’ve made the case that people develop an unhelpful anterior weight shift over time. I think that leads to the kind of gait where folks are essentially just putting one foot in front of the other to get around instead of using the effective propulsive system you mention above. Do you see a connection between loss of posterior chain effectiveness and the forward weight shift?

Charlie Reply

Larry – I think that is the exact correlation you should expect in the dysfunctional environment. Well done.

Braedan@PhysioSurrey Reply

Charlie,
Good post on ankle mobility. As I look at your post I am continually drawn back to your first point, “you’re not achieving it.” I have to think that many people make errors in that category.
It is so easy when testing mobility to shove a joint way past the point that the joint would ever choose to go in a functional movement (especially when the test is in weight bearing).
When we gain ankle mobility, the goal should be “easy” mobility, and that is what we should measure. That’s because when we hit the court or the field, that is ultimately what our bodies will use.
When we reach a point of “easy mobility”, using it and integrating it comes a whole lot easier after that.

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