Ankle dorsiflexion is a movement whereby the angle between the top of the foot and the shin decreases. A practical example of this would be the knee bending and moving forward over your toes if you were stood with your foot flat on the floor.
Ankle dorsiflexion is vital during everyday functional movements and the gait cycle (walking/running). Research has identified restrictions and asymmetries in ankle dorsiflexion as a potential risk factor for a range of knee injuries including Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries (1), Patella Tendinopathy (2) and Meniscal injury (3). ACL and meniscal injuries are heavily linked to a knee valgus which has been associated to a reduction in ankle dorsiflexion. Additionally limited ankle dorsiflexion increases the ground reaction force when landing during the gait cycle and jumping exercises. This increased load places higher demands on the knee which may lead to tendinopathy (2) whilst also increasing the risk of injury if knee valgus occurs.
Adequate ankle dorsiflexion is also required to optimise squat and lunge movement patterns in a gym setting. Limited ankle dorsiflexion can have a profound knock on effect on the entire kinetic chain, for example creating an excessive forward lean during the squat pattern. This would lead to increased load going through the lower back to extend the spine to complete the movement. On many occasions I have seen limitations in ankle dorsiflexion influencing lower back, neck and knee pain in the everyday gym goer as a result of movement compensations.
Ankle dorsiflexion can be limited by either soft tissue structures such as the calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus & deep calf muscles) or joint based structures such as ligaments. It is important you consider both of these when aiming to improve ankle dorsiflexion. The following 3 exercises focus on creating mobility in soft tissue structures and joint based structures as well as creating stability in the newly acquired range of motion. Mobility is heavily influenced by stability and your ability to control a larger range of motion.
Soft Tissue Release Calf
Banded Ankle Dorsiflexion
Ankle Dorsiflexion PAILs/RAILs