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  • Kris Krotiris

Could ankle stiffness be the cause of your pain or injury?

The image below demonstrates the impact of stiff ankles on the front squat movement pattern. This athlete has limited ankle dorsiflexion range of movement (movement of the lower leg forward over the toes). While this image demonstrates its significant impact on the front squat, limited dorsiflexion has the potential to effect many lower limb movement patterns and hence should be considered a risk factor for foot, ankle, knee and hip injuries.

Stiff ankles

What causes stiff ankles?

Reduced ankle range of motion (particularly ankle dorsiflexion) can result from:

  • Joint stiffness due to history of sprained ankles or other ankle injury

  • Swelling due to current injury (or chronic, ongoing injury)

  • Joint osteoarthritis

  • Muscle tightness

  • Anterior joint impingement

How do you fix it?

In many (but not all) cases, ankle dorsiflexion range of movement can be improved by:

  • Stretching the calves if tight (shown below)

  • Stretching the ankle joint. This can be done by a physio or can be done with a specific home exercise. Keep an eye out for a future article with instructions on how to do this yourself!

A note on temporary 'band-aid' fixes

As shown in the comparative pictures above, small plates can be placed under the heel, or shoes with an elevated heel can be worn to compensate for reduced ankle dorsiflexion range of movement. While this can help to improve aspects of certain movement patterns (e.g. allowing a more upright torso during a squat), it can alter the lower body muscle loading patterns by slightly shifting the focus from the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) to the quadriceps. This may be desirable in some, but should be avoided in others!

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