What we’ll cover
Ankle stiffness is a common complaint that occurs in a large proportion of the population. It is a common symptom in poorly managed ankle sprains as well as common foot conditions such as osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis or achilles tendinitis. In some cases, ankle stiffness can be a by product of the condition whilst in some cases a stiff ankle can be the primary cause. The ankle traditionally loses mobility in two directions. Plantar flexion (toes down towards floor) or dorsiflexion (toes up towards the ceiling). In this article, our physiotherapist Jason Lee identifies how to improve dorsiflexion.
What causes ankle stiffness?
There are a number of structures that can limit dorsiflexion of the ankle. This can usually be attributed to one or more of either muscles, joint-related or bone-related.
If the ankle is reduced by muscle, it is commonly causes by tightness and reduced flexibility of the calf muscles.
Joint related stiffness is common following a period where the ankle hasn’t been used normally. This can occur following an ankle sprain or any time the ankle has been immobilised or reduce movement for a period of time.
Bone-related changes include conditions such as osteoarthritis or bone spurs can physically limit ankle mobility.
Why is ankle mobility important?
Ankle dorsiflexion mobility is crucial for almost anything that we do when our feet are on the ground. Dorsiflexion is crucial for a number of day to day tasks from walking, getting out of a chair through to going up and down stairs.
During the walking cycle, dorsiflexion is critical for the mid stance phase when the opposite leg is swinging through. Without enough dorsiflexion, more force and stress is placed on other structures including the hip and knee due to the compensation pattern.
How to assess for ankle stiffness?
The knee to wall test is a simple way to measure your ankle flexibility.
In order to perform the test, set yourself up in front of a wall. The aim is to assess the maximum distance between the wall and your toes when you lunge forwards allowing your knee to touch the the wall. Record the distance on one side and compare the difference between left and right. Whilst ankle flexibility may vary from person to person, the distance should be within 10% of left and right.
Additionally, depending where you feel it on the knee to wall can be a good indication of what may be restricting your ankle flexibility. If you feel mainly restricted at the back of the ankle, it is likely that muscles are restricting your ankle flexibility. If you notice it mainly at the front or middle of the ankle, it is likely that your ankle stiffness is related to either the joint or bone.
If you are experiencing a stiff ankle, be sure to see your physiotherapist. Book online or call our friendly team today.