When you want to improve your overall mobility, what do you focus on? Your knees, or maybe specific muscle groups? You probably don’t think about your ankles. Most people don’t think about their ankles unless they injure the joint. But your ankle plays a large role in your movement, from walking to swimming, to jumping, to simply standing up straight. As you age, it becomes more and more difficult to do these things, in part because of increased stiffness in your joints. In fact, ankle mobility begins to decline in your 40s and 50s, with significant loss by your 60s. Limited mobility in the ankle is also tied to weakened mobility in the knees, as well as a host of lower body issues such as:

  • Torn ACL- ACL is one of the key ligaments that help stabilize your knee joint
  • IT band syndrome- A common but very painful lateral knee injury
  • Shin splints- Pain along the shin bone (tibia) — the large bone in the front of your lower leg

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for stiffness to set-in, to tackle the issue. Certain simple measures can help improve ankle mobility and, in turn, your overall fitness and functionality. So let’s take a look at what ankle mobility is, and how to assess and improve it.

What is ankle mobility?

In simple terms, ankle mobility is the amount of motion that is available at the ankle joints. There are, of course, multiple ankle joints but let’s look specifically at the area where the shinbone meets the ankle bone. This joint is fundamentally responsible for pointing your foot up and down, and the action of being able to point your foot up and down at an optimized range of motion is a good marker of mobility in this joint.  

How do you assess it?

Self-assessing your ankle mobility is actually quite simple. All you need is a wall and a ruler. If you don't have a ruler, no problem! You can use your hand as a rough comparison. You’re looking for a length almost the length of a fist and a thumb. This is called the 5-inch wall Test — a reliable and easy to execute metric. To begin the test, you need to get into a half-kneeling position with a wall close by for support so that you can focus on your movement on your ankle and get a clean measurement.

Step 1: Measure the distance between your foot and the wall with a ruler or your hand. As the name suggests, the distance should be five inches.Step 2: Push your knee forward so that it moves ahead of the toe and closer to the wallInterpretation of the test:If you are able to touch your knee to the wall without having to lift your heel, congratulations, this means you have sufficient ankle mobility.If you are not able to get the knee to the wall without lifting your heel midway, you have an ankle mobility limitation. But don’t worry, there are some things you can do about it.

How do you improve it?

The drills to improve ankle mobility are fairly similar to the assessment since the end goal is to improve the range of the up and down movement of the joint. Ideally, you want to be able to push the knee ahead of the toe without having to lift the heel off the ground — and without having to feel any aches or pains in the ankle joint. There are two watch-outs for doing these drills:1) Signs of joint limitation (pressure and sensation in the front of the ankle) 2) Soft tissue limitations or stiffness in the back of the lower leg, specifically the calf musclesIt’s important to work within your limits. Like any exercise, joint health improves gradually and with repetition, so if you can’t go very far in one session, it’s okay. Listen to your body and try again tomorrow. With this in mind, here’s how you can fix both limitations and unlock those stiff ankles.

Exercise 1: Banded joint mobilization


  • Secure one end of the band to an immovable object
  • Slip your right foot into the other end and keep your left foot behind and kneel- keep your hands on your knee
  • Try to push your knee outside without lifting your right heel
  • Do 20 reps and repeat the same with your left leg. Try doing at least 2-3 rounds

Things to keep in mind:

  • Build enough tension in the band
  • Keep some soft padding below the knee (a yoga mat works well)
  • One rep is counted as set-up, execution, and return to set-up

Exercise 2: Step up ankle stretch


  • Use a sturdy chair or a stool. Lift one leg and place it on the chair/ stool
  • Keep your hands on the knee of the lifted leg and gently push forward your knee beyond your toes
  • Make sure that the heel of the leg on the chair does not rise up
  • Do 20 reps and repeat the same with your left leg. Try doing at least 2-3 rounds

Exercise 3: Wall supported calf stretch


  • Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at about eye level
  • Keep one leg about a step behind your other leg
  • Keeping both heels on the floor, bend both knees
  • Hold the stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg in front
  • Do this 2-3 times

Exercise 4: The Deep Squat

We’ve saved the best for last — if you aren't already comfortable with this exercise, just do the first three consistently for a few weeks until you build up the strength to give this a try


  • Keep your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider than that to accommodate the stomach
  • Push your hips back, bend the knees and slowly go drop your hips towards the floor. Go down as low as you can, all the way to the floor if possible
  • Make sure that your back is straight, chest upright, knees pushed out diagonally, feet facing the same direction, and heels firmly on the ground. The moment you feel your heels are lifting up, stop right there and maintain the position
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds or less based on how comfortable you feel and gently lift yourself up. You can gradually increase the hold time as you become more comfortable with this

If you are a beginner, we recommend that you do this with your back against the wall for extra support.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Feet should be flat and pointing relatively straight
  • The chest should be up and back should be stable
  • Hips should be positioned lower than the knee cap
  • Knees tracking should be in perfect alignment with the toes

Doing these exercises for just three days a week, on every alternate day, can improve your ankle mobility in as little as a month. As you improve, you can retake the 5-inch wall test and use it as a benchmark for your progress.Ankle mobility is impacted by a lot of factors, from age to weight and activity level. And in turn, the ankle has a large impact on so many of our everyday movements.

Nov 5, 2020

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