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Ankle Mobility is Function Dependent | Boddicker Performance

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Ankle Mobility is Function Dependent

by on Apr 21st, 2011

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In the last several years redress of ankle mobility restriction has been done with strictly talocrural mobilizations in ankle rocks with the knee flexing and advancing toward the pinky toe with the subtalar joint in neutral or slight inversion to, in effect, lock out the midtarsal joint. While the mobilization certainly has its perks and definitely improves dorsiflexion range of motion with the knee flexing as I have tested it, I’ve more and more begun to realize that it may be an incomplete picture for a number of reasons.

As anyone who uses the SFMA is surely aware, an apparent mobility issue in full weight bearing is not necessarily a mobility dysfunction as there could be extenuating stability deficits that block full excursion. A simple lack of a posterior shift of the center of mass, for example, may result in a dysfunctional toe touch. Additionally, the biomechanics professional would recognize that in true functional movement the talocrural joint is required to explore full ranges of motion with different relative positions of the subtalar joint and arrangement of the center of mass relative to the feet. These changes are especially apparent and easily illustrated with a simple model of gait.

In gait at ground contact; the center of mass advances rapidly from posterior relative to the foot just slightly to anterior of the foot at toe off. The subtalar joint strikes in an inverted or neutral position, everts through midstance or so, then reverses to inversion at toe off. The knee flexes through midstance and begins to extend toward toe off with requisite rotations relative to the hip and ankle. The talocrural joint first sees action in any gait cycle with slight plantar flexion prior to contact then experiences increasing dorsiflexion with a flexed knee prior to holding it on a gradually straightening knee through stance phase terminating with powerful plantar flexion.

If it stands to reason that movement specifics are different on a flexed and straight knee with a flexed and extended hip and that the center of mass’ position may influence relative mobility, we may not be getting it done with the usual knee drive. Hip extension plus knee extension plus dorsiflexion differs substantially from the traditional hip flexion plus knee flexion plus dorsiflexion configuration. Additionally, subtalar and midtarsal play and positions differ substantially from position to position in function. The ankle mobility is function dependent.

Where I see this playing a larger role is in running athletes who see early heel lift due to inadequate dorsiflexion with the knee and hip in extension. If the mobility is lacking in this point, you get a very “bouncy” gait at the expense of running economy. You also (or maybe because you) get some compensation that will ultimately erode proximal elasticity requiring more active and less reactive work of the hip flexors and abdominals. This mechanism may also be a proximal dysfunction that alters available dorsiflexion.

The solution, I believe, is very simple. As ankle mobility is function dependent (and position dependent) I am beginning to incorporate more mobilizations where the hip and knee get to extend on a dorsiflexed ankle and vice versa to see if we can make a difference. Backwards walking, skipping, various lunging reaches, wall exercises, and step up and down exercises have become a mainstay in dynamic warm ups provided we determine a need for the specific intervention. Inspired by some work of Gary Gray, I, too, have been toying with joint specific biases using wedges and manual overspeed actions to increase the effect.

What do you think? Plausible? Fact or Fiction?

Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »5 Comments
  • Geoff Lewis April 22, 2011

    I have had a right ankle dorsiflexion limitation for about a year and a half. I had implimented the 1/2 kneeling ankle mobility against the wall with limited success. I had a little more success with the positioning you mentioned, with the knee and hip extended. I also utilized the “Tri Stretch” placed the effected ankle on it behind me with the knee and hip extended and slightly flexed the back knee (pumping motion) keeping the heel down and also using the lateral plane motion with the tri-stretch. It was much more successful but still leaves me with a slight limitation. I could never fully wrap my head around the kinematics of the ankle like you mentioned in the post, but I knew the standard mobility corrective needed some alteration for my issue. Hope this was useful. Thanks
    -Geoff Lewis

  • Rune Fog Brix May 12, 2011

    Hi Carson
    Could you explain which kind of compensation you are refering to her:
    “You also (or maybe because you) get some compensation that will ultimately erode proximal elasticity requiring more active and less reactive work of the hip flexors and abdominals”

  • Carson Boddicker May 13, 2011


    This effect is a result of inadequate dorsiflexion of the hallux and/or talocrural joint. If you cannot get the hip to full extension because you run out of room at one of those two locations first, you are unable to actively load and reactively contract (see Bosch’s work) those tissues because the hip remains flexed as does the knee. Search “hallux” in the search box and there is more complex detail if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty.

    Carson Boddicker

  • Rune Fog Brix May 16, 2011

    Thank you, for your answer.

    I get your reasoning process in relation to lack of hip extension, how this is relatede to lack of hallux flexion or dorsiflexion and why this is lack of hip extension, caused by earlie heel lift is not the loading the hip flexor and the abdominials reactively. But as fare as i can see you have 2 compensation patterns that fix this… hip extension with out knee extension and hip external rotation. Hip external rotation would actually increase the loading of hip flexor and abdominals? Maybe i am missing something?

    I think it is a good point your making that flexibilty is very positionel in nature and isolation of joints is missing the hole picture.

  • Carson Boddicker May 16, 2011


    If it’s a proximal problem then you need a proximal fix. If it’s proximal dysfunction, you need to fix the problem, which, in the case at hand, is a distal problem.

    Carson Boddicker

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