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WHY IS ANKLE MOBILITY IMPORTANT?

Hector Osorio 02 Feb 2020
WHY IS ANKLE MOBILITY IMPORTANT?

Ankle mobility is a term usually seen within the context of sports, mainly because 30% of all sports-related injuries involve the ankles and these cases are usually underreported, not properly treated by professionals, and very likely (up to 75% of cases) to recur, which can have a real effect over an athlete’s performance[1,2].

When people think about taking better care of their bodies, the ankles and their mobility tend to be overlooked. The ankles are more important than many people think, they are part of a complex system that almost constantly keep us balanced while standing up. If they don’t function properly our lower extremities are not able to perform correctly, leading to several complications [3].

Ankle mobility, in short, refers to how flexible the ankle is [4]. A very flexible ankle should be able to allow 65-75 degrees of movement along a sagittal axis (up and down) [5]. There are many different methods to determine if an individual has experienced loss of mobility/range of motion, however, we’ll focus more on the actual phenomenon rather than the ways to study it.

Why is ankle mobility important for me?

For athletes, the loss of mobility will have a negative effect over performance. If the complex of joints in the ankle becomes more rigid, then it will be more difficult and uncomfortable to move the foot along its axis [6].  

For non-athletes, the problems come much later in life. Over time, ankle mobility naturally decays and in cases where previous history promoted very rigid joints, the risk of experiencing falls or other similar accidents increases considerably, the elderly (≥65 years) being the most vulnerable population [7].

There are several other consequences related to low ankle mobility, like an increased risk of developing plantar ulcers in diabetic individuals, however, poor performance of the lower extremities is by far the most common example [9].

How do I lose ankle mobility?

The following are some recognized risk factors that will promote loss of ankle mobility over time [3, 8]:

  • The aging process
  • Strokes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Poorly fitted footwear
  • Incorrect exercise technique
  • Poor anatomical alignment
  • Poor muscle conditioning
  • Neuromuscular problems
  • Injuries

Any of these factors can contribute to make joints stiffer, which promotes a series of small anatomical alterations to muscle architecture, loss of strength and further loss of mobility [3].  

How to improve ankle mobility?

Exercise is the recommended treatment to improve ankle mobility. Strength training has been recommended in the past because of its beneficial effects, especially for the elderly. However, other activities like 30 min sessions of Pilates, dancing or soccer can also have positive effects [10, 11, 12].

Some people consider that spending more time standing up is helpful against loss of mobility, however, evidence suggest that although not entirely useless, the benefits are simply too small. Exercises involving some form of resistance are much more effective [13].

physiotherapist can also provide some basic ankle exercises that you can do at home. 

Conclusion

Your ankles are just as vulnerable to decay as the rest of your body and if they are to be kept in good condition, then they’ll need more attention and maintenance.

Ankle injuries are extremely common, and many people don’t report them, this leads to a great number of recurrent damage that could have been prevented with simple exercises or by being treated by a professional instead of leaving your ankles to heal by themselves.

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About the Author:
Hector Osorio is a cell biologist, research assistant and science/health content writer. He loves complex topics related to life sciences like cancer, viral infections and aging. He graduated from Central University of Venezuela Faculty of Sciences and worked as a research assistant for the Center of Experimental Medicine of the Venezuelan Center for Scientific Research (IVIC) for 5 years.

References

  1. Tricia Hubbard, T. (2010). Ankle sprain: pathophysiology, predisposing factors, and management strategies. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 115. doi:10.2147/oajsm.s9060
  2. What is the prevalence of ankle sprains? (2019, November 10). Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/answers/1907229-95137/what-is-the-prevalence-of-ankle-sprains
  3. Vandervoort, A. A. (1999). Ankle mobility and postural stability. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice15(2), 91-103. doi:10.1080/095939899307793
  4.  Hecht, M. (n.d.). 12 Exercises to Improve Ankle Mobility. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/ankle-mobility
  5.  Brockett, C. L., & Chapman, G. J. (2016). Biomechanics of the ankle. ORTHOPAEDICS AND TRAUMA30(3), 232-238.
  6. Spink, M. J., Fotoohabadi, M. R., Wee, E. W., Hill, K. D., Lord, S. R., & Menz, H. B. (2011). Foot and ankle strength, range of motion, posture, and deformity are associated with balance and functional ability in older adults. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation92, 68-74.
  7. Bok, S. K., Lee, T. H., & Lee, S. S. (2013). The effects of changes of ankle strength and range of motion according to aging on balance. Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine37(1), 10-16.
  8. Hubbard, T. J., Kramer, L. C., Denegar, C. R., & Hertel, J. (2007). Contributing Factors to Chronic Ankle Instability. Foot & Ankle International28(3), 343-354. doi:10.3113/fai.2007.0343
  9. Rao, S. R., Saltzman, C. L., Wilken, J., & Yak, H. J. (2006). Increased Passive Ankle Stiffness and Reduced Dorsiflexion Range of Motion in Individuals With Diabetes Mellitus. Foot & Ankle International27(8), 617-622. doi:10.1177/107110070602700809

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