Ankle Dorsiflexion

The movement of drawing your toes back to your shin is called ankle dorsiflexion. Sadly, this is an area of the body that tends to be overlooked. We don’t seem to hear about someone having “limited dorsiflexion”. We do hear about ankle, knee, hip and low back injuries that are directed related to this type of restricted ankle movement.

The biggest cause of restriction in ankle dorsiflexion is wearing shoes with any kind of a heel. Picture standing on a flat surface in shoes from a side view. What we are doing is sliding a wedge underneath our feet that keeps an angle in the ankle for hours at a time. The higher the heel the bigger the angle. Without counter acting that position the body forms tissue to keep us comfortable in that position because that’s what the body does. Sitting around barefoot will not undo the damage done.

Ankle dorsiflexion is important when it comes to walking. A lack of dorsiflexion can result in an altered walking pattern. When walking, we need our lower leg to be able to move over our foot so we can progress forward. Without this ankle motion we are forced to take smaller steps and eventually we shuffle instead of stepping. This change increases the risk of falls. As does not being able to lift the toes out of the way when climbing stairs. Such little body movement can cause big problems if it isn’t functioning.

There are various ways to either get some dorsiflexion back or maintain what you have.  Here are some ideas:

  • The squat is one of my favourites. If your range of motion is limited, squat down as low as you can pushing your knees (keep heels on the floor) forward a little each time you attempt this movement. Again, do not push too hard or far. It should not hurt.

  • A variation on this is to put all of your weight on your right foot (using your left for balance). Keeping your right foot flat on the floor push your knee forward over your toes. Hold for a bit, and then repeat on the left side.

  • One other variation is to kneel on your left knee with your right foot flat on the floor and push the right knee forward over the toes. Hold for a bit, and then repeat on the left side.

Essentially any movement (that is safe) that gets your knees going over your toes will help increase dorsiflexion. If you’re a measurement type of person there’s any easy way to track your progress. You need a wall and a measuring tape. Here’s what you do:

  • Stand facing the wall.

  • Put all your weight on your right foot and use your left foot for balance.

  • Push your knee forward over your toes with the goal of having your knee touch the wall.

  • Move the right foot forward and back until your knee touches the wall without lifting your heel at all.

  • Measure the distance between the tip of your right big toe and the wall.

  • Do all of that for the left foot.

  • Record your findings.

Plan to measure again after doing the exercises for a week or two. 

Whether or not you choose to track your progress it’s important that you pay attention to that little movement called dorsiflexion.

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