Ankle Mobility Exercises (and why you should do them)

Ankle Mobility Exercises

When most people think about having trouble reaching down, squatting, or perhaps even walking, they think that they have a problem with their knees or their hips. People with problems in these areas will often experience localized stiffness and pain. However, there are many times when the culprit for these movement problems aren’t the knees or the hips themselves, but rather the problem starts at the ankles. But are there ankle mobility exercises that help? 


The challenge with realizing that the ankles have reduced mobility is because the body naturally has ways in which it can compensate and also because we use shoes. Shoes have been designed in such a way that they can make having reduced ankle mobility much more bearable. And since most people use shoes all the time, the result is that people have been living with reduced ankle mobility but have grown used to it. 

Ankle mobility is critical to being able to do every type of lower body movement. Think of them as the wheels of a car. And just like the wheels of a vehicle, if they present problems, the rest of the vehicle can’t move. 

Ankle movement and basic anatomy

The ankle joint is an area made up of several parts that need to work together in just about any type of standing movement. The main parts of the ankle joint are the following:

  • Fibula
  • Tibia
  • Tarsals
  • Fibular ligaments

These three bones and the fibular ligaments form the ankle joint, which is involved in moving throughout the whole range. 

The main movements of the ankle joint are the following:

  • Dorsiflexion and Plantarflexion: these are the movements you can see when you lift or lower your toes. Think of walking forward and backward. 
  • Inversion and eversion: these are the movements that you can see when the foot moves side to side while still facing forward. 
  • Rotation: rotation happens when the foot stays flat but rotates left to right. 

It’s important to note that whether you’re walking, standing, or squatting, the ankle always applies force to some degree in all directions. It’s for this reason that having a healthy range of motion in the joint is critical for day-to-day movement. 

Common types of ankle injuries

There are many ways in which the ankles can become injured or develop a loss of mobility. Due to the complexity of the ankle joint, it is very common for all three different types of injuries to occur simultaneously. Here we’re going to list some of the most common ones. 

Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains are some of the most common injuries to the ankle joint. They usually happen when the ankle is forced to move beyond the range of motion it is capable of. Sprains can occur in each of the different directions in which the ankles move. 

In sprains, the ligaments are usually the ones that are affected the most. Common symptoms are swelling, pain, and decreased range of motion. The spectrum of sprains goes from mild to severe when there is a complete rupture of the ligaments. 

Ankle Fractures

An ankle fracture occurs when there is a small or large break in one of the ankle bones. Fractures can happen due to trauma to the area, such as a fall. The most common treatment for fractures is immobilization with a cast or some other removable immobilization device. 

Fracture severity can range from hairline all the way to completely break and dislocation of the bone. 

Ankle Tendonitis

Tendinitis refers to tears or inflammation of the ankle tendons. They can be caused by overuse or trauma, similar to when a sprain or fracture happens. Tendinitis usually leads to instability, swelling, and localized pain when walking. 

Common causes of decreased ankle mobility

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it can be very hard to diagnose or even realize that a person suffers from reduced ankle mobility. The problem with having a limited range of motion or a weak ankle joint is that it can also be the cause of knee and hip pain. 

Recent studies on both high-performance athletes and the elderly have shown that improving ankle mobility and strengthening the joint can impact a positive way the whole body. 

Here are four common causes of decreased ankle mobility:

  • Lifestyle: People with more sedentary lifestyles or who spend a large amount of their day sitting down often suffer from decreased ankle mobility. This is because there is a relationship between the leg’s hamstring muscles and ankle that can be impacted by lack of use. So extremely sedentary people can develop problems in their legs and ankles which makes it more challenging to solve. 
  • Shoes: Wearing shoes is one of the main reasons why people develop mobility problems in their ankles. The main culprit is the heel. Heels cause your ankle to not have to go through its full range of motion. This causes that, over time, your tendons and ligaments end up shortening. This results in a decrease in mobility and an increase in injury risk. 
  • Arthritis: this disease can also develop in the ankle joint. Arthritis will usually create localized inflammation in the area and impact the joint’s cartilage. Over time and if not managed properly, it can result in permanent damage to the ankle joint. 
  • Past injuries: The ankle joint is one of the most commonly injured joints, particularly in sports. The problem is that depending on the severity of the injury, it might not have been rehabilitated properly, which can create long-term problems in the area. 

Best ankle mobility exercises for improving strength and motion

There are many ways in which the ankle can be strengthened, and mobility be recovered. Unlike other joints like the knee, the ankle tends to have a high degree of success when trying to recover its mobility. Here are three exercises that can help in the recovery process. 

Walking backward

Walking backward is one of the most effective and safest ways to improve ankle mobility and strengthen the joint. The reason is that the range of motion used when walking backward is the same as when we go downstairs or squat down to reach for something on the floor. The advantage of walking backward is that it allows you to strengthen the same muscles and tendons in a safe and progressive manner. 

Standing heel lifts

To perform standing heel lifts, go near a support surface to assist you in maintaining balance and lifting your heels. Do this in a controlled manner to make sure you are engaging your muscles correctly. This exercise helps you strengthen your calf muscles which are very important in helping your ankle joint move. 

Walking sideways

This is a great way to work on the ankle rotation and, at the same time, use the hip flexors in conjunction. It’s important to find a place where there are no obstacles that can get in the way and cause a fall. It’s important to start slowly and build up the distance and speed over a long period of time. 

Closing thoughts

Keeping healthy ankles is one of the best ways to make sure you can prevent accidents and improve your overall quality of life. In the process of enhancing and recovering mobility, always look for ways such as walking aids or like, in the case of wrist injuries, ergonomic door handles like Ultralatch.