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Our ankle joints are quite complex and designed to be very mobile. They help with ankle dorsiflexion, this is to point your toes upwards, and plantar flexion, to point your toes away from you.
Essentially, the ankle joint helps us to walk, run and stand whilst helping to absorb shock when carrying heavy weight or performing movements such as jumping.
That being said, many people do suffer from stiff ankles which reduces their range of motion making common daily activities that little more difficult.
In such cases, it’s a good idea to regularly perform some ankle stretching exercises to keep the joints mobile and flexible and help to reduce any chance of ankle injuries.
Best Ankle Stretching Exercises
Below are some of the best ankle mobility exercises you can do to stretch out the joints, helping to reduce stiffness and any associated aches and discomfort.
If you have an injured ankle or foot, be sure to seek the advice from a qualified professional such as a physical therapist before committing to any new exercise program.
This exercise is a good warm up for the ankle joints, helping to get the blood flowing.
You can perform this movement either sitting on the ground with support under your leg or by sitting on the end of your bed with your feet just hanging over the edge.
How To Perform An Ankle ABC Movement
- Sit on the floor with both legs extended out in front of you.
- Place a cushion or two under the back of your calf muscle of the foot to be worked. This helps to allow full range of motion.
- Use your toes to ‘write’ the letters of the alphabet with your foot.
- Complete 3 sets of the entire alphabet before switching to the other foot.
Sometimes called the towel stretch, this isometric movement effectively stretches not just the ankle joint but also the calf muscles and the hamstrings helping to alleviate tightness and can be performed seated or lying on the floor.
How To Perform A Seated Calf Stretch:
- Start by sitting in a comfortable position on the edge of your bed or couch, so that one leg is stretched out in front of you with the other leg down and foot resting on the floor.
- Take a rolled-up towel and position it around the balls of your foot. This is your start position.
- Holding on to either end of the towel, slowly pull the top of your foot towards you.
- You should feel a stretch to the ankles, back of the lower leg and the hamstrings.
- Make sure you sit up straight throughout as this will accentuate the stretch making the exercise more effective.
- Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times before switching to the other leg.
Seated Soleus Stretch
The soleus muscle forms part of your calf and sits just beneath the larger calf muscle called the gastrocnemius.
Stretching out the soleus will help to improve the range of motion to your ankle joints and reduce calf muscle tightness.
The most important part of this exercise is to keep your heel flat on the ground throughout.
How To Perform A Seated Soleus Stretch:
- Begin in a seated position with your back straight and head and chest up.
- Your feet should be flat on the ground with your ankles directly under your knees.
- Slowly slide your right heel underneath you as far as you can go whilst it remains flat on the ground. Keep your front foot where it is.
- When you feel a stretch, carefully lean forwards slightly.
- Maintain this position for around 30 seconds before swapping to work the left leg.
Anterior Tibialis Stretch
The anterior tibialis works with the ankle joint to aid with dorsiflexion and inversion of the foot. Working this muscle regularly will help with flexibility which in turn improves ankle mobility and tightness.
This is a good exercise to perform if you suffer from shin splints and is best performed with no footwear.
How To Perform An Anterior Tibialis Stretch:
- Sit on the edge of your chair and start with your feet flat on the ground.
- Take your left foot and bend it back so your toes are pointing behind you.
- Place your foot on the ground, the top of your left foot should now be resting on the floor.
- Gently press your foot into the ground so that you feel a stretch along the front of your lower leg.
- To increase the stretch, lean back a little.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds before switching to right foot.
Plantar Fascia Rolling
If you suffer from plantar fasciitis then rolling a golf ball, or specialist foot roller under your foot will help to alleviate pain to your heels and improve flexibility to your calf muscles and ankles.
How To Use A Roller For The Foot:
- In a seated position, place your ball under your foot so it sits under the arch.
- From here, simply rolling your foot backwards and forwards tilting at the ankle to hit different parts of the underside of the foot.
- Keep the foot moving for around 30 seconds and then switch to the other foot.
The wall stretch is a great exercise to perform for beginners and specifically targets the gastrocnemius, which is the largest calf muscle giving the lower leg its shape.
How To Perform A Wall Stretch:
- Stand facing a wall leaving a gap of around arm’s length.
- Keeping your legs straight, lean onto the wall with your hands around shoulder height.
- Take your right leg back and place your foot flat on the ground. Your left knee should be slightly bent.
- You should feel a good stretch along the back of your right leg. Maintain this position for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Ankle Eversion Stretch
The eversion exercise involves rotating the ankle joint outwards and you can perform this movement either sitting on your bed, couch or on the ground with legs stretched out in front of you.
If it’s easier, you can position yourself next to a wall and push your foot into the wall instead of your opposite foot.
How To Perform An Ankle Eversion Stretch:
- With your legs outstretched, cross your right foot over your left foot.
- From here, rotate your left ankle outwards so that it presses against your right foot.
- Hold this position for around 5 seconds and perform 8 to 10 repetitions.
- Once complete, switch and do the same again on the other foot.
Poor ankle mobility can affect anyone, whether that’s seniors, youngsters, or even elite athletes. It may seem trivial, but it can impact balance, co-ordination, and ability to perform other activities and exercises.
If your ankles don’t perform as they should then your feet become overworked and overtime this can cause both ankle and foot pain.
However, the good news is that by performing our suggested ankle stretching exercises on a regular basis you can help to improve the mobility and keep your ankles and feet working exactly as they should.
As mentioned above, if you’re unsure or find the exercises uncomfortable to perform then always seek the advice from your healthcare provider.