Dorsiflexion Ankle Test And Ankle Mobility Exercises [13 Exercises To Improve ROM]
Testing dorsiflexion is very simple; all you need is a ruler and a wall! This ankle dorsiflexion test has been found to be pretty accurate, when compared against other more technical methodologies to test dorsiflexion .
You can perform this ankle test in one of two ways either in a kneeling lunge position or a standing position.
Personally, I prefer to perform the test in a kneeling position so everything is more consistent.
Steps To Perform Knee-To-Wall Dorsiflexion Ankle Test
- Measure out 4″, I do this with a small 6″ ruler but you can do it however you like. Use a tape measurer, a 4″ book, your phone or some other every day object that is 4″. Place it against the wall with your lead foot grazing it.
- Your back leg will be planted on the ground in a lunge position.
- Keeping your front heel on the ground, push your knee until it touches the wall.
- Add an inch or two at a time until you can’t touch the wall with your knee while your heel remains fixed to the floor.
- If your knee collapses inward thats also fails the test, it needs to be kept in alignment.
This Test Should Be Done In Barefeet
There is no firm standard as far as what constitutes adequate Dorsiflexion flexion. However, if you can’t manage 4″ you have very restricted mobility that needs to be addressed.
As a way of an example, my healthy ankle can reach up to 7″. My ankle that I injured and am rehabbing can get about 5.5″ before I start to feel it “pinch”.
What Is Dorsiflexion And Why Is It So Important?
Dorsiflexion is our ability to bring our tibia forwards. When we squat, at the bottom of the movement we bring our knees forward. Achieving 5″ on the tape measurer ankle test is a pretty good base line to determine if we can perform deep squats adequately. The deeper the squat, the more important Dorsiflexion is and if you want to be able to do pistol squats you’re going to need a lot of mobility.
Basically, if you do any kind of squatting you’re going to need a minimum level of Dorsiflexion. If you start doing overhead or pistol squats you’re going to need a lot more to get into the correct position.
What Causes Restricted Dorsiflexion and How Can We Improve the Range of Motion?
Lets take a look at the common reasons why we might be lacking Dorsiflexion. Typically it falls into one of two camps; joint mobility or soft tissue issues.
Other factors can be at play as well, such as injuries, bone spurs or inflammation but generally, on a healthy individual we should be able to increase ankle mobility by either working on joint mobility or with the tissue.
Issue Joint Mobility: The Tibia and Talus Bones Aren’t Sliding Correctly Creating an Impingement
While doing this test if you’re feeling a pinching sensation at the top of your foot where you Tibia and Talus meet it’s likely that your Talus and Tibia aren’t sliding correctly.
Fix: Ankle Mobilization Exercises Using a Band or Your Hands
It’s a lot easier to perform these exercises with an anchored pull up band but if you don’t have one handy you can manipulate your Talus with your hands. The goal is to create force in the correct direction.
Putting Tension on Your Tibia Using a Band
The idea with this exercise to put tension on your Tibia to help pull it forward.
- Secure a band to a heavy object like a squat rack or a post.
- Place the band above your Tibia, above your ankle joint on your front leg.
- Drop down into a lunge position with your back knee on the ground and your front foot in Dorsiflexion. Pull backwards on the band, the band will pull your Tibia forwards.
Putting Tension on Your Talus Using a Band
The band will pull down and back, on a 45(ish) degree angle. For this exercise, it works best if you have a small step stool or a slight platform.
- Anchor your band to a heavy object at floor level (a heavy couch, or the bottom of a post or just use your foot) work well.
- Using a small step stool, put the band around the top of front ankle. Make sure the band is taut.
- Push your knee forward placing your ankle into Dorsiflexion. If you don’t have a small ledge to work with, you can use your back foot to step on the band to create the downward, backwards force on your talus.
Manipulating Your Talus With Your Hands
While this isn’t as effective as using a band to create the necessary force it does work.
- Sit in a chair and cross your injured ankle over your knee. Let’s assume it’s your right foot.
- At the top of your ankle cup the web between your thumb and pointer finger around the joint where your Talus meets your Tibia.
- Using your left hand push your foot into Dorsiflexion while pushing on your Talus with your right hand.
Tissue Mobility Issues: Gastroc, Soleus, Tibialis Anterior Muscles and Plantar Fascia: Foam Rolling
As far calf muscles goes I’ve always preferred a muscle roller over a traditional foam roller for working in those areas.
I find it’s difficult to generate enough pressure using body weight on the calf muscles. Conversely with a hand roller, I can control the amount of pressure.
1. Soleus and Gastrocnemius Muscles
With your leg out straight and your foot in Dorsiflexion start on the lower part of your calf, the Soleus and work your way up to the Gastrocnemius, pausing over tight areas. You can also use a lacrosse or massage ball to work on these area as well if you find you can’t apply enough pressure with a roller stick.
2. Tibialis Anterior Muscle
Once you’ve finished working on the Gastroc and Soleus, you can direct your attention to your Tibialis Anterior muscle which is the muscle located by your shin bone. For a more detailed breakdown on how to work with a foam roller in these areas read this post.
3. Plantar Fascia
And of course don’t forget to roll out your plantar fascia. You’re going to need a small massage ball for this. I would recommend getting a few different balls, a lacrosse ball and a ball that is the same size, but slightly softer than a lacrosse ball. These are invaluable for SMR work.
Dynamic and Static Stretches to Improve Ankle Mobility
Once you’re done working with SMR tools you can move on to dynamic and static stretches.
Calf Raise to Dorsiflexion (Dynamic)
Find a platform that will give your ankles the full range of dorsiflexion and plantar flexion (if the platform is too short your heel will bottom out). Make sure you have something to hold on to.
- Starting on your left leg raise up onto your toes.
- Slowly lower yourself down, with your calf and quad engaged.
- Now normally, if you were just doing calf raises you would rise back up. But instead keep your calf engaged and push your knee forward slightly to further accentuate the dorsiflexion.
- Repeat on the other side.
Kneeling Dorsiflexion Stretch (Dynamic)
This is going to be the exact same movement that you use to test flexion but there won’t be any wall to prevent you from going further. The goal here isn’t to test how far you can go, but to work on ankle mobility.
- Start in a kneeling lunge.
- Gently push your knee forward Once you hit the end of your range of motion bring your knee back to 90s and repeat.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Goblet Squat (Dynamic)
One of my favorite exercise for improving hip and ankle mobility is the goblet squat. You can start by using your body weight, as you build up strength and flexibility add in a kettlebell. This is also a great exercise to build up into cossack squats with.
- Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder with and your toes pointing out, at a slight angle (30-40 degrees).
- I like to pretend i’m holding a kettlebell, even if I’m not because it reminds me to drop my arms inside of my knees.
- Making sure your knees don’t collapse in, push your hips back and drop into a squat. The goblet squat should allow you to squat much deeper than a traditional squat.
- Go as deep into the squat as is comfortable. Like with any movement you shouldn’t feel any pain or pinching.
I like to perform 6-8 slow reps where I’ll wiggle around in the position. Pushing my knees out with my arms or shifting side to side.
Standing Bent and Straight Leg Calf Stretch (Static)
A bent leg is going to stretch the Soleus while a straight leg will target the Gastrocnemuis muscles.
- Start by facing a wall with your arms outstretched.
- Your front leg should have a slight bend in it, while your back leg should be straight with your heel on the ground.
- Lean forward until you feel the stretch in your Gastrocnemius. If you rotate your back foot inward or outward it will target your outer Gastroc and inner Gastroc respectively.
- Afterwards, perform the same stretch except this time bend your back leg slightly to stretch your Soleus.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Wall Calf Stretch (Static)
- Similar to the first stretch find a suitable wall.
- Place your the heel of your front foot on the ground with the ball of your foot up against the wall
- Lean in to increase the intensity of the stretch.
- Switch sides and repeat
I love Downward Facing Dog. It’s terrific to use as a warmup, to help improve posture and to increase mobility.
- Get down onto all fours.
- Try to keep your back in alignment (it’s OK to have bent knees) while you push your hips toward the sky and your heels toward the earth.
Afterward you’ve held the base pose for 20-30 seconds, bend your left knee and push your right heel even further down. Gently alternate sides, this will intensity the stretch.