Performing regular ankle stretches is a great way to maintain the overall health, flexibility, stability and good function of your ankles. Learning how to stretch your ankle is key part of any ankle rehabilitation program as well providing a strong foundation that all exercise programs need.
The video above looks at the best stretches for your ankle with a step by step guide and explanation why stretching the muscles around your ankle is so important.
When doing ankle stretches it is important to consider which muscles you are targeting and why:
Your calf muscles consist of your soleus and gastrocnemius and are important for moving the ankle into plantarflexion, i.e pointing the foot downwards. You use these muscles mainly during the last phase of walking where you propel yourself forwards off you back leg. Tight calf muscles can restrict ankle mobility, cause achilles tendinopathy, be instrumental in plantarfasciitis
This is one of the most important ankle stretches you can do, and if you are only going to learn one then this is it!
There are several ways to stretch your calf muscles. The simplest is to start by standing, put one foot forward and leave the other behind. Lean forwards on to your front knee all the while leaving your back foot flat on the floor.
In the image below Louise is demonstrating a calf stretch by sitting down wit her leg out straight and using her hand to pull her ankle towards her.
Stretching the front of the ankle and lower leg is a bit more tricky than the calf muscles at the back but is equally as important.
The reason why you want to stretch the front of the leg like this is because it is this muscle that lifts your foot up! With out it you would be continually tripping up, and no doubt injurying yourself and your ankles. If you ever experience pain in your shins when exercising then you are a prime contender for learning this type of stretch. Often termed shin splints, muscle tension in the tibialis muscle can cause excruciating pain.
For this stretch it is sometimes better to sit, bring your leg up and rest it on you other knee. With your hands bend you ankle downwards and away as louise is demonstrating in the image below. Anotehr way to do it is to stand,put your leg slightly out behind you and bend your ankle backwards so that the top of your toes are on the floor.
These ankle stretches are a bit more specific but nonetheless important for good ankle mobility and proper function. These muscles attach on the outside of your leg up close towards the knee and move you foot into inversion, taking the outside of the foot further outwards.
For this stretch follow the video guide and the picture below. The stretch is the same as above but the foot needs to be turned inwards so that the (sole of you foot faces towards your other foot) in order to stretch the outside of the ankle.
Ankle stretches are a great place to start if you are aiming for stronger and more healthy ankle joints, however without incorporating the other three pillars of ankle rehabilitation and training, they are not enough to prevent injury. Ankle strengthening exercises, ankle mobility exercises and and ankle stability exercises make up the other three pillars and need to be incorporated into your ankle exercise or workout program. Follow this link if you are looking for more advanced ankle exercises.
Harvard have an excellent article about why stretching is so important.