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Ankle Stretches

Relevant anatomy:

The ankle joint is a hinge joint between the medial and lateral malleoli of the tibia and fibula, and the talus. Plantar flexion and dorsiflexion can occur at this joint.The muscles that move the ankle and toes are located primarily in the lower leg ; these muscles have tendons that are as long as or longer than the muscles.

  • The dominant tendon is the Achilles tendon, which is shared by the gastrocnemius, plantaris, and soleus.
  • The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are the prime plantar flexors and are assisted by the plantaris and tibialis posterior as well as two toe flexor muscles, flexor digitorum longus and flexor hallucis longus.
  • Three anterior calf muscles (tibialis anterior, extensor hallucis longus, and extensor digitorum longus) dorsiflex the ankle as well as move the foot and toes.
  • Located on the outer (lateral) side of the calf is another group of three muscles—peroneus longus, peroneus brevis, and peroneus tertius—which are used in everting the foot.
  • Additionally, the peroneus longus and peroneus brevis  help in the plantar flexion of  the ankle.


The movement range for the ankle and toes is limited by the strength of the agonist muscles, flexibility of the antagonist muscles, tightness of the ligaments, and bone contacts or impingements. Tightness in the foot, ankle and calf leads to minor changes in foot position and how forces are transferred through the foot which can lead to foot problems.

 

One of the most notable limiters in foot movements is the plantar fascia. A tight plantar fascia limits toe extension, and in cases where the fascia is inflamed, it will also limit plantar flexion. The range of motion for both plantarflexion and dorsiflexion can also be limited by the formation of bone spurs.  Most of the range-of-motion limiters, except bone impingements, can be changed by doing stretching exercises.


You are on their feet for a good part of the day. Therefore your muscles of the foot and lower leg are typically used more extensively during normal daily activities such as standing, walking, or running than any other muscles in the body. Although the musculature of the lower leg is substantially smaller than that of the upper leg, it supports the entire body and receives the heaviest load during the day to day activities.


Stretching and strengthening of these smaller muscle groups of the ankle and foot can reduce much of the fatigue and pain caused by daily activities. In addition to helping reduce pain, stretching the muscles of the lower leg and foot can also improve overall flexibility, strength, strength endurance, balance, and stamina.

Improving strength and flexibility in these muscle groups generally will enable a person to be more productive by increasing his ability to work longer and harder at work or during recreation activities.

Chronic use of these muscles can also increase muscle tightness. Tightness may lead to conditions such as tendinitis and shin splints.

 

  • Tendinitis of the Achilles tendon, associated with overuse and tightness of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, is quite common, in fact.
  • Shin splints result from inflammation of the frontal compartment of the lower-leg muscles, the tibialis anterior and, in some cases, the soleus and flexor digitorum longus. Either of these conditions can become excruciating if not treated in the early stages.
  • Another common condition is delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. This problem typically occurs after people participate in unusual or unfamiliar activities. The calf muscles tend to be affected by DOMS more often than any other muscle group in the body. Light stretching exercises are recommended to help improve this condition and relieve some of the pain associated with it.

To stretch these specific muscles in an effective manner the stretch must involve one or more movements in the opposite direction of the desired muscle’s movements.The following ankle stretches are designed to restore movement to the ankle and improve flexibility of muscles crossing the ankle: 

 
Gastrocnemius stretch
Gastrocnemius stretch with towel
 

Gastrocnemius stretch with towel

  • Sit as shown, looping towel around ball of foot.
  • Gently and steadily pull on towel, keeping knee straight.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Relax and repeat for 5-6 times

 
Soleus stretch
Soleus stretch
 

Soleus stretch 

  • Stand, one leg in front of the other.
  • Face wall, hands on wall for support.
  • Slowly bend knees, keeping heels on floor, as shown, until stretch is felt.
  • Repeat with other leg in front.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Repeat for 5-6 times

 
Plantar flexion stretch in standing
Plantar flexion stretch in standing
 

Plantar flexion stretch in standing

  • Stand at wall.
  • Place top of involved foot down, toes pointed, as shown.
  • Slowly lower body until stretch is felt in front of foot.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Relax and repeat for 5-6 times

 
Plantar fascia stretch
Plantar fascia stretch
 

Plantar fascia stretch

  • Use one hand to pull toes upward.
  • Keep toes pulled upward.
  • Use thumb of other hand and push down while moving up and down along sole of foot.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Repeat for 5-6 times

 
Toe flexors stretch
Toe flexors stretch with towel
 

Toe flexors stretch with towel

  • Sit with foot on floor.
  • Loop towel under toes and gently pull up into stretch.
  • Keep ball of foot on floor.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Repeat for 5-6 times

 
Toe extensors stretch
Toe extensors stretch
 

Toe extensors stretch

  • Sit, grasp foot under the heel.
  • Push toes down with other hand, curling them under foot
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Repeat for 5-6 times

 
Great Toe flexors stretch
Great Toe flexors stretch
 

Great Toe flexors stretch

  • Sit, grasp heel with one hand.
  • Pull up on big toe with other hand.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Repeat for 5-6 times

 
Great Toe flexors stretch with elastic
Great Toe flexors stretch with elastic
 

Great Toe flexors stretch with elastic

  • Sit with affected leg out in front, knee straight.
  • Loop elastic around big toe.
  • Slowly pull the toe back and hold.
  • Hold the stretch for few seconds and release gradually
  • Relax and repeat for 5-6 times