How to stretch your ankles: 5 exercises to improve mobility

Why you should stretch your ankles

It’s pretty easy to get through an entire day without thinking twice about your ankles. Until they don’t work quite right, at least.

Maybe they feel stiff. You may be experiencing pain related to a recent ankle sprain or a flare-up from an old injury. Or maybe you’re not quite sure if your feet, ankles, or calves are causing problems; you just know you don’t move like you usually do.

Whatever the problem, you suddenly realize how crucial it is to have fully functioning ankles.

“Ankle mobility is very important to lower limb mechanics in everyday activities such as walking, stair climbing, squatting, and lunging,” says Jhankhana Jani, a physical therapist with Performance Therapy at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

When there’s something wrong with your ankle, every step you take will feel “off”. And what starts out as a problem in one joint can eventually have a cascade effect in other, adjacent parts of the body.

A ripple effect throughout the body

If there’s something wrong with your ankle, you may feel it in more than just the ankle joint. It has the potential to alter your biomechanics (also known as how your body moves) and cause pain in other parts of your body.

As Jani points out, you could end up compensating for the underperforming ankle, which can affect your feet, knees, hips, or spine.

“Changes in range of motion can lead to gait and functional disturbances, putting more stress on other joints,” says Kenneth Jung, MD, a foot and ankle surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.

dr. Jung, who is a foot and ankle consultant for professional sports teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Lakers, says that when the ankle joint is stiffened or fused, you could develop problems with the subtalar (a joint below the ankle), metatarsus. and forefoot joints.

stretch your ankles

It is important to regularly stretch all your important joints. That’s why you want a fitness routine that includes stretches for hips, shoulders, wrists, and more.

Do you feel stiffness in your ankles or tightness somewhere in the foot, ankle or calf area? dr. Jung and Jani agree that this is a clear sign that it’s time to add ankle stretches to your routine.

A daily routine, especially when you are tense, is important to regain full mobility.

Before you start exercising, know when ankle pain and tightness deserve medical attention.

If your pain persists for more than a few days or a week (especially with a new stretching routine), you should get an evaluation by a doctor or physical therapist to pinpoint the exact problem.

(Now is the time to take your leg pain seriously.)

How to stretch your ankles

Because of the knock-on effect of issues falling across the body when you have ankle stiffness, an effective ankle stretch routine should also include stretching exercises for the calves and feet, says Dr. Jung.

One way to do that – add yoga to your routine. Many yoga poses encourage ankle mobility, Dr. Jung says. For example, in Downward Dog, you stretch your calves as you perform ankle flexion.

Or try the following set of stretching exercises suggested by Dr. Jung and Jani. Aim to complete them several times a day, or a total of 10 to 15 minutes a day.

Before trying these stretches, do a warm-up exercise to loosen up and get your body moving.

Just circles

To work directly on active ankle mobility, complete a series of ankle circles. These include ankle flexion, extension, inversion, and eversion — basically all the ways your ankle moves — making them a good warm-up for the other stretches.

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart. Shift your weight slightly to the left and lift your right heel off the floor, keeping your toes in contact with the floor.

Perform an ankle circle with your right ankle and try to “draw” as large a circle as possible with your ankle while moving it clockwise.

Perform 20 circles clockwise, then reverse the movement and perform 20 circles counterclockwise. Switch feet and do the circles with your left ankle as well.

Complete three sets per side.

(These are the symptoms of foot pain that you should not ignore.)

Ankle Flexion and Extension

In particular, the ankle flexion and extension exercise works to maintain or increase your ankle’s range of motion as it involves either pointing your foot toward the floor (extension) or pulling your toes up (flexion).

Ankle Flexion and Extension

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Sit on a mat with your legs extended in front of you. Keep your ankles at a natural 90-degree angle and your toes pointing up.

Moving both feet at the same time, extend your ankles and point your toes as far away from you as possible.

Hold for a moment at full extension, then reverse the movement and bend your foot to see how close you can bring your toes to your shins.

Continue alternating between flexion and extension for 20 reps. Complete two sets.

(Try this if you’re looking for an easy stretching routine.)

Only inversion and eversion

Inversion is the act of rolling your foot and ankle away from the midline of your body while eversion is the act of rolling your foot and ankle towards the midline of your body.

In other words, when you stand upright, inversion lifts your bow away from the ground, and eversion pushes your bow closer to the ground.

Only inversion and eversion

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

To perform this active mobility exercise, sit on a chair or bench with your feet about hip-distance apart.

It’s very easy to let your hips and knees help you with this stretch, but it’s important to isolate the ankle. So you may want to press your arm into your knee to keep it and your thigh from moving as you perform the exercise.

Start with your feet flat on the floor, your toes pointed straight forward. With your right foot, roll your ankle out as far as possible (inversion). Hold for a moment at the end of the stretch.

Reverse the movement and roll your ankle in as far as possible (eversion). Hold on.

Continue the back-and-forth exercise, turning and turning 20 times before switching feet.

Complete two sets per side.

(Here are some reasons for pain on the outside of your foot.)

stomach stretch

The gastroc stretch targets the gastrocnemius, one of the two main muscles in your calves.

Tight calves can directly affect ankle mobility, so it’s important to stretch them regularly.

The gastroc stretch and soleus stretch are very similar, so it’s important to pay attention to the details and do both.

gastroc rack

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Stand facing a wall, feet hip-distance apart. You should be able to touch the wall with your hands as you stretch your arms in front of your chest.

Take a step toward the wall with your right foot and place your hands on the wall. Both feet should be pointing straight ahead and your left leg should remain fully extended while your heels remain in contact with the floor.

Lean toward the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your left calf. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

Relax and switch legs. Complete a total of three sets per leg.

(Here’s what you need to know about dynamic stretching.)

Soleus stretch

The soleus stretch targets the soleus, the other large muscle in your calves.

There is only one difference between the soleus stretch and gastroc stretch: you keep the back leg fully extended to perform the gastroc stretch, but you bend the back knee when performing the soleus stretch.

soleus stretch

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Stand facing a wall with your feet hip-distance apart. You should be able to touch the wall with your hands as you stretch your arms in front of your chest.

Step your right foot toward the wall and place your hands on the wall. Both feet should be pointing straight ahead, with your heels in contact with the floor.

Lean forward and bend your left knee as you do. Continue to lean until you feel a stretch in the back of your left calf.

Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Relax and switch legs.

Complete a total of three sets per leg.

Then learn to deal with swollen feet.

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