How We Screen Functional Movement (Series): Ankle Mobility
After taking a couple of weeks to discuss our stability-based screens, Rotary Stability and Trunk Stability Push Up, we return to the final mobility-based screen of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), Ankle Mobility.
This Week We Will Discuss:
- The Importance of Ankle Mobility
- Proprioception and its effect on mobility
- Connection between Hips & Ankles
The Importance of Ankle Mobility
When we look back to the Joint-by-Joint approach, the ankle is the first joint that contacts our environment (the ground) that is mobility dominant. This makes ankle mobility a high priority in the functional hierarchy of our body. Proper mobility of our ankles is vital to our being able to move in an efficient and effective manner.
Let’s discuss the importance of ankle mobility to overall movement quality and function.
First, our movement control center (our brain) is dependent upon receiving information from every joint in our body, which it (the brain) is able to interpret and process and then based upon the information received (which we refer to as afferent, information sent from a joint to the brain) and how it is interpreted it makes the decision on how to control muscle activity to perform the desired task (ie running, jumping, climbing, squatting, etc.). This process is called proprioception and can be thought of as our body’s internal GPS. The ankle is the most important joint in this process for any activities in which we have our foot in contact with the ground.
There is a higher concentration of mechanoreceptors (sensory organs in our joints that create the information that is communicated from the joint to the brain) in our ankles than any other joint in our body! To be able to get the right message to the brain, we need proper joint mobility. Restricted or limited mobility could create an error in the messaging which can result in poor muscle control and compensations that may eventually lead to overuse and injury. This process is extremely important to our ability to balance and is one of the primary reasons why we tend to have balance issues as we age, which significantly increases our risk of falling.
Ankle Mobility in Everyday Activities
Second, ankle mobility is essential to proper knee and hip function. As previously discussed, the ankle is the first mobility dominant joint that contacts the ground from our lower kinetic chain. Anatomically, the kinetic chain describes the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting joints, and muscles working together to perform movements and the portion of the spine to which they connect. The lower kinetic chain includes the toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, upper legs, hips, pelvis, and spine. In those activities that are closed-chained (activities where the feet are contacting the ground) versus open-chained (feet are not contacting the ground) proper ankle mobility is necessary to help reduce the stress to our knees.
Let’s take a look at a common closed chain movement, squatting, which we use every day, such as, getting to lower heights, sitting on a toilet, or sitting on a chair. To effectively lower ourselves to the ground while our feet are connected to the ground, we need to have good ankle mobility. Without proper mobility of our ankles, we will displace more stress and strain on our knees which will have to compensate for the loss of mobility in our ankles. Loss of ankle mobility can be an extremely common source of knee pain and problems. This takes us back again to the Joint-by-Joint approach. Stiffness in a mobile segment (ankle) can create sloppiness and excess movement in the stable segment above (in this case the knee), which ultimately can lead to overuse and injury.
The Connection between Hips & Ankles
There is a significant amount of research that also demonstrates the relationship between ankle mobility and hip function. Again, this is shown in closed chain activities, such as walking and running. Proper ankle mobility is necessary to allow for proper extension or backward movement of our hip in the back leg with walking and running. Proper extension of our hip is necessary for proper activation of our gluteal muscles, which requires proper mobility of our ankle. Our glutes are our primary power generating muscles for our legs and our also very important to stabilization of our lower back. Therefore, if we are not getting good activation of these muscles because of poor ankle mobility, we could have several consequences including hip and/or low back pain. When looking at the importance of ankle mobility it is easy to see how important this joint and its proper function is to our overall movement quality and well-being.
Therefore it is vital to have an understanding of how well we move our ankles prior to designing an exercise program. Activities such as running and jumping should be limited, prior to correcting limited ankle mobility. Ankle mobility should be corrected and reach a satisfactory level prior to adding repeition or load to many closed chain activities of our lower extremties including squatting and lunging. We also want to focus on improving ankle mobility prior to training an individual on how to improve balance and lower their fall risk. Activities that we need to be cautious with include deadlifts, squats, lunges, and push-up progressions.
We hope that our continued discussion of the FMS and the ankle mobility screen has demonstrated the continued strong need for a proper fitness screen prior to initiating a training program. For more information on corrective strategies that we utilize in our training programs to help improve ankle mobility, continue to follow us on social media (Instagram, Facebook) where we will be posting videos of how to improve and correct ankle mobility.
This screen, as shown below, and good ankle mobility will be very important in our next three and final screens of the FMS. We will discuss these functional screens, Hurdle Step, Inline Lunge and Deep Squat over the next three weeks. We’ll be back next week with the first of these functional screens, the Hurdle Step.