Best foot forward

Good ankle mobility is important for athletes. Dave O’Sullivan presents a self-test and means of improvement

Posted on June 16, 2011 by
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ankle stretch

The ankle joint is a very important area of the body for runners. It is the first major joint in the body that comes into contact with the ground every time an athlete walks or runs. Dysfunction in this joint can mean uneven force distribution from the ground right up through the knee, hip and back. Poor ankle mobility has been shown in some studies to predispose athletes to injuries such as hamstring or Achilles problems. At my Pro Sport physiotherapy practice we have a nice and easy way for runners to check and ensure that their ankles are good and mobile before running:

» Place your foot by a wall and bend your knee so it touches the wall without your heel lifting off the floor as shown in the illustration. The knee should be over the fourth toe when touching the wall. (This helps avoiding excessive pronation to help and cheat!)
» If you can do this then move your foot back a few more centimetres and re-test.
» Find the exact point at which you can just touch the wall with your knee without the heel coming off the floor.
» Measure the distance from your toe to the wall with a measuring tape or mark it with a piece of tape and note the distance.
» This will be your distance for that leg.
» Repeat on the other leg and compare both sides. If there is a difference of more than one centimetre, this could potentially cause asymmetries in your stride.

Points to note: Ensure that the knee stays over the fourth toe while touching the wall. Sometimes there will be a tendency to let the knee cave inwards past the big toe in order to reach the wall. This is a compensation pattern and do not allow this to happen.

What we look for at my practice is that the left ankle has the same mobility as the right ankle. If this is not the case then there may be increased work demands on the

The ankle is the first major joint in the body that comes into contact with the ground decreased side. We expect all of our athletes to have 10cm toe-to-the-wall on each side. Ankle mobility will vary from person to person and females that wear high heels for long periods of the day may struggle with this test.

I have a difference between left and right, what now?

The advantage of this easy test is that it also becomes your corrective exercise. Find that exact spot where you can just touch your knee to the wall without the heel coming off the ground.

Come back 2.5cm further and repeat this movement 10 times and then repeat but in a circular motion clockwise for 10 times and then in an anti clockwise motion 10 times trying to touch the knee to the wall. After you have done this, re-test your range again. This can take some time to change and should be done before every run on both sides to promote good running mechanics while decreasing the risk of injury.

Other points to note: If you feel a jamming pain in the front of the ankle when doing this exercise or test then there may be a joint problem that could require manual therapy from a physiotherapist. If the restriction is just above the Achilles then calf stretching along with the above exercise is needed.

Now you have two quick self-tests (side-lying hip extension test and ankle mobility test) to ensure that you are safe to run every day. This will ensure that you are giving your body a good stimulus while training and allowing for improvements and, more importantly, decreasing the risk of injury.

Fun point to check

A person with decreased ankle mobility on one side usually has a poorer hip extension score on the opposite side. This shows how wonderfully complex the human body is and how compensations occur all over the body due to poor ankle mobility.

» Dave O’Sullivan is head physiotherapist for rugby league club Leeds Rhinos and holds an honours degree in physiotherapy and a higher certificate in physiology and health science. He also treats athletes from Lancashire and Yorkshire at his clinics in Huddersfield, Leeds and York. See

One Response to “Best foot forward”

  1. Coty Smith says:

    I just got to thank athletics weekly for helping me to test how good my ankle is. Unfortunately I discovered that my feet ankles are different…

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