Sports are extremely stressful to the body, and the ankle joint is no exception. Over the course of a practice or competition, each foot contacts the ground hundreds or thousands of times and goes into plantar flexion for propulsion equally as many times.
This repetitive strain can shorten the plantar flexors (calf, plantar fascia), and over time the jarring of the joint causes natural gliding to become restricted. The ankle is the most commonly injured joint in sports — and coupled with countless taping jobs and elevated heel shoes, you get a nasty mixture of muscular and joint restrictions that limits movement.
If your athlete loses any amount of flexibility, or dorsiflexion, in the ankle it will create an inability to actively dissipate force in their lower extremities and can lead to problems both locally (in the joint) and up the chain (knee, lower back) as the force must go somewhere.
Furthermore, poor ankle dorsiflexion can lead to a negative impact on performance. Beyond risk of injury, athletes need to be able to have appropriate ankle movement to absorb and produce forces necessary to accelerate, jump, throw and make multi-directional movements.
If they can’t efficiently absorb force into their tendons then much of the force will be dissipated into the ground or joints, resulting in less- than-optimal force production to accelerate, jump or change direction.
Secondary to performance on the field, lack of dorsiflexion can also have a negative impact on strength exercises. Just as in sport-specific movements, if the joint lacks mobility then the stress will travel up the body to the knees and lower back. Certain lifts like squats, cleans, snatches, lunges, jump squats, hopping, bounding etc. cannot be performed safely or effectively without an appropriate level of ankle mobility.
To get your athlete performing optimally we need to take a proactive approach to counteract the stress that is placed on the ankle joint.
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