Five best Ankle Mobility Exercises

There are a myriad of reasons why you would want to do ankle mobility exercises from restoring full range of motion in your foot, improving blood supply to the area and drainage of waste products and reducing the stiffness and soreness that comes with ankle arthritis.

If you find you are on you feet all day, working out a lot and doing very little, then employing these top five ankle mobility exercises are for you.

5 Ankle mobility exercises you are not doing but should be

The five most important mobility exercises for you ankle are;

  • Flexion and extension
  • Inversion and eversion
  • Circumduction
  • Toe flexion and extension
  • Writing the alphabet

These simple mobility exercises are enough for you to restore full mobility to your ankle and are comprehensive enough for a proper and full mobility training program. For a full ankle rehabilitation program you also need to consider ankle stretching and strengthening exercises as well as balance/stability exercises.

Dorsiflexion and plantarflexion (up and down)

By pointing your out in front of you and carefully and slowly moving it up and down as shown in the images below and the ankle mobility video published at the top of this page, you are taking you ankle through the full range of its most important movement.

This up and down movement is fundamental in all activities from swimming, walking, running and even driving a car!

The benefits of this ankle mobility exercises are numerous and include a pumping motion of the calf which aids venous blood and lymphatic return to the body as well as maintaining lubrication of the ankle tendons in their tendon sheaths.

This gentle mobility exercises also puts a small degree of movement through each individual joint in the ankle which in turn helps nourish the synovial fluid and cartilage on the inside of the joints. The benefits of this are numerous and may considerably help with the disabling symptoms arising from ankle arthritis.

Reps: 10-15, once or twice a day

ankle plantarflexion
ankle dorsiflexion
ankle dorsiflexion
ankle dorsiflexion

Watch the video for a full demonstration of ankle plantarllexion and dorsiflexion.

Inversion and Eversion (in and out)

The second most important vector of movement for the ankle is the in and out, or 'side to side' movement of the foot and ankle. Various ankle injuries and conditions can result in a sudden or more commonly, gradual decrease and loss of movement through the ankle in these vectors.

Ensuring that you take you foot and ankle through these vectors is fundamental for regaining full ankle mobility but must also be used in conjunction with strengthening exercises especially if you are recovering from an eversion (outside) ankle sprain.

Reps: 10-15, once or twice a day

ankle inversion
ankle eversion
ankle inversion
ankle eversion

Circumduction (round and round)

Circumduction utilises both of the above ankle mobility exercises into one fluid circular motion. Point your foot out in front of you and simply move your whole foot around in the largest motion possible while keeping you leg relatively still. Louise demonstrates this on the video above.

Reps: 10-15, once or twice a day

Toe flexion and extension (stretch and scrunch)

The muscles that control the larger movements of the toes largely originate in the lower leg, travel through the ankle and end up in the toes. Toe mobility exercises are therefore an important part of keeping you ankles and feet healthy and injury free. A lack of bit toe mobility for example, which occurs after being in a cast or due to a period of inactivity, can lead to tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon sheath). While this may not be your exact issue, it does highlight the importance of maintaining good toe mobility.

A key exercise in any ankle mobility program is toe stretches and scrunches. Extend your toes upwards and away from each other, hold for a second, and then scrunch them downwards, holding for another second. Repeat this for about 10 times per session.

Reps: 10, once or twice a day

Toe extension
Toe flexion

Draw the alphabet (A, B, C...)

This ankle mobility exercises is as easy as A, B... Sorry, couldn't resist. I joke, but this mobility exercise is important!

To ensure that every aspect of your ankle mobility is restored to its full capacity drawing out the alphabet with you foot is key. This especially true if you are recovering from an ankle injury. This exercise rebuild neurological connections which control proprioception (limb location awareness and balance) and movement control meaning that your ankle movements are integrated in with the rest of you limb and lower leg and that, put simply, your brain knows exactly where your foot and ankle is at all times, without having to look at it.

To start, point your foot out in front of you and draw and A, and then a B.... you know the rest!

Complete this a couple of times per session and you're good to go. This exercise can also be useful for chronic foot issues which require ankle mobility exercises such as arthritis and general stiffness. They can be done anytime you are sitting, so for example at your desk at work or watching TV, just maybe not driving.

Reps: Once or twice through the alphabet per session

Advantages of doing mobility exercises

The advantages of doing ankle mobility exercises are numerous on their own but when they form part of a larger training or rehabilitation program these advantages are compounded.

1. It's obvious. Its mobility. By improve the range of motion of your ankle and foot the changes are injury are significantly reduced. When the joints are moving properly in the full ranges and in all vectors, the chances of spraining your ankle go down and does the chance of picking repetitive strain injuries and tendinopathies.

The ankle is a beautifully designed structure and as long as the lines of force and stress go where they should in a harmonious, even and pre-destined fashion - as they do 99% of the time. A slight restriction here, or a reduction in movement there, may go unnoticed for a long time, but where there is decreased movement in one place, there has to be increased movement elsewhere. Now, whether this comes from the knee and you pick up a knee injury, or comes from the hip, or maybe even you back, your body can compensate for it anywhere! Eventually something will give and you'll end up in pain. And chances are you won't know why.

2. Pain. What is pain? Common sense tells us pain, when it is working correctly, is a warning system. Pain lets us know when something is going wrong. The chances are that by improving the mobility in your ankles, you can help your body resolve whatever is going wrong and shut those warning systems down.

3. Speed up healing. When you've got an injury anywhere, not just in the ankle, your body needs two main basic components to be functioning properly so that it can effectively heal itself. These are blood supply and waste removal. Blood brings in the tools needed to heal the torn ligament in your ankle, and needs blood supply and your lymphatic system to take away the debris, the waste. Ankle mobility exercises pump blood into the affected area and pump waste away. Its as simple as that.

4. Activate muscles. The muscles in and around you ankle give it life. They make it move and they give it support. In cases of injury, a period of rest can often be extremely detrimental to the musculature in and around the ankle. While mobility exercises don't directly strengthen muscles, they do keep them activated. This stop atrophy and wasting, meaning that when you get better, your ankle has everything it needs to be back on top!

Addressing soft tissues restricting ankle mobility

While these basic mobility exercises are focused and effective, soft tissue restrictions especially in the back of the leg may need extra work. However don't despair! Dealing with muscular tension is simple especially when it come to the ankle. 

Self massage to the calf muscles (gastrocnemius) and the shin muscles (tibialis anterior) is the best place to start. Using some oil/massage cream or any lubricating lotion, work deeply into the tissues. The direction you massage the muscles is not too important however there is some weight behind the idea of moving 'up' the leg, as opposed to 'away' or 'down' the leg. This is because fluid and waste products can be more effectively drained away from the ankle.

In areas of particular tension and soreness you may have found a trigger point. Trigger points are hyper contracted 'knots' of muscle that can appear due to lactic acid damaging muscle fibres. You may need to spend a bit more time here, some people say 30-40 seconds but we say until the soreness disappears.

After a solid self massage session you need to follow up with some stretching. Stretch out the calf and the front of your lower leg, holding each stretch for about 15 seconds. Use these ankle stretches for pictures and videos on how to do this properly.

Where to go next

As your ankle mobility begins to return you can start to test it by squatting. A squat is a fantastic way of looking for restrictions throughout your knees, ankles, hips and pelvis. A lack of dorsiflexion here could significantly impede your ability to squat. If this is the case then focus your ankle mobility exercises towards dorsiflexion.

These exercises work best if they are done with ankle strengthening exercises, ankle stability exercises and ankle stretches. So follow the links and watch the videos to ensure you ankles are in the best shape they can be so that you can reach your goals.

When to seek medical help

There are times when even the best mobility program is simply not enough. If you have tried the exercises on this page for several weeks and are not getting the results you want, then visiting a manual therapist may be just the ticket. 

The manipulation of anatomical structures may be what is required, in which case visiting a pro is the way to go!

I hope you found this page about the five best ankle mobility exercises useful. If you're looking for more information about how to rehabilitate, strengthen or train your ankles follow this link to go to the main ankle exercises page. Otherwise return to the homepage to learn what else the Osteo Fitness Collective can do for you or visit the OFC youtube channel.