Ankle Dorsiflexion: An often under-assessed and poorly rehabbed area of the body that can have far reaching ramifications is Ankle Dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is your bodies ability to pull your toes up towards your knee. If you were to walk around just on your heals you would be dorsiflexing your ankle to lift the front of your foot and toes off the ground. Another test is your ability to do a squat and keeping your feet flat on the ground. This requires being able to push your knees forward over top of your toes and potentially beyond them while keeping your feet flat on the ground. This is your ability to dorsiflex your ankle.
An inability to dorsiflex your ankle results in an inability to squat properly, altered running mechanics that may lead to injury if not corrected. Most recently to put some real world context into this, I had a patient in my office that had recurrent back pain, made worse every time he went to get up from his desk. Upon watching him do this it was noted that he could not get his feet under him to be able to stand up, insteading forward flexing his lower back and pushing with his hands off his thighs to get up. He was a regular gym goer and when I said his ankles didn’t have enough dorsiflexion and so all the squats he was doing, were done wrong and that he lacked the strength to get up. He wasn’t impressed. Upon identifying the lack of mobility and showing him stretches it all started to make sense to him and he is now working on a regular stretching program for his ankles. The flexibility gained has helped his mobility, and decreased his lower back pain.
In an OCR race where going up and down hills, is all part and parcel of a day’s competition. A lack of ankle dorsiflexion can wreak havoc on your achilles and calf muscles going up hills, as you will always be on your toes increasing the load carried by these muscles/tendons. Any type of squat motion will also be inhibited by lacking this movement in your ankles. If part of the OCR event is to lift something from the ground, or perform squats/lunges of any kind, you will have difficulty and potentially lead to injury. Lacking dorsiflexion and performing these movements, may not hurt at the time, but with high repetition can lead to prolonged and significant injury.
Most often people will be able to work around this deficiency, but I have seen many athletes present to my office with injuries simply because they lacked the range into dorsiflexion that could be easily fixed with a regular stretching regimen. There can be an osseous (joint shape) reason why people lack this range of motion, but this is rare, and stretching on a regular basis can help to increase the range, preventing injury and increasing performance.
The simple stretch is to do a combination of gastroc and soleus stretching, the two muscles that make up your calf muscle and have a common tendon, the achilles. Check out the attached video for how to start stretching these muscles to increase dorsiflexion. A key point here is to hold each stretch for two minutes. No bouncing or pain is required for benefit. You want to have tension in the muscle, and simply hold it at the point where you start to feel the tension.
Start working on your ankle range of motion and begin moving faster today!