Have you ever had one of those embarrassing moments when you tripped on seemingly nothing? It may have been a slight change in the sidewalk or grade of the parking lot. You look around to see if anyone saw your stumble and then look down at the ground like it is the ground’s fault. Or worse, yet, you actually did fall. It is NOT the ground’s fault. It may be your ankles. Check the basic mobility of your ankles with this simple test.
Why should you do this test? When was the last time you challenged the mobility of your ankles? If you sit or stand in place most of the day, frequently wear heels (even many athletic shoes have a slight heel), walk primarily on flat surfaces, and rarely take the stairs, then you are asking your ankles to do very little for you. As a result, they stop moving in all the wonderful ways an ankle is intended to move.
One of the most important ways the ankle needs to move for us is by helping to lift the front of the foot up. This motion can be lost from weakness in the muscles in the front of the calf, tension in the back of the calf, or stiffness in the front or sides of the ankle. Or, it could be all three.
Lifting the front of the foot up is important for walking. This motion becomes even more important for walking on uneven surfaces, hills, and stairs. If you noticed that you have caught your toe on an uneven sidewalk or when going up the stairs, do this test and see if your ankles are lacking mobility.
Ankle Mobility Test
- Make a fist with the tip of your thumb poking away from your hand and place it next to the wall, as shown in the photo above. If you can’t do this yourself, measure your fist or ask a friend to help you.
- Place the big toe of your left foot next to the edge of your fist, as shown.
- Keeping your left foot in place and keeping your heel on the floor, try to touch your knee to the wall. You can allow the other leg to be in whatever position you feel will help you.
- Repeat with the right foot.
As you can see, our model is able to touch her left knee to the wall. It took a little effort, but she was able to touch. The right knee would not touch. She admitted that she has caught that foot on uneven surfaces and has started feeling she needs to watch where she’s walking more. She reported she injured the right ankle a while back. Can she correct this? Yes, with a little focused stretching. Attention to this issue will help to prevent a fall as she ages!
A Note on Falls
There are many potential reasons for tripping and falling beyond ankle mobility including vision issues, vestibular issues, sensory issues and weakness in other areas of the body. When falls there are really two primary areas to consider. One is the initial loss of balance, which could be due to any of the issues listed above, and two, our ability to catch ourselves when we stumble. The mobility and strength of the lower body, namely the ankle, is significant in helping to catch us when we stumble.
Falls and Fascia
A very significant finding in myofascial research in the past year is that the retinaculum or the strap of tissue across the top of the ankle is one of the most highly innervated structures in the body. If you’d like to learn more about fascia research, check out the book Fascia, Function, and Medical Applications by David Lesondak and Angeli Maun Akey. This structure gives us sooooo much information on where our body is in space (proprioception) which helps us know where our feet are and therefore keep our balance. The more mobile our ankles are, the more information we can get from them. This information coordinates with vision, sensation, etc. to keep us upright and safe.
If you are able to touch both knees to the wall easily, awesome! Your ankles are probably in good shape. But, you may still have a weakness issue if you are not easily able to lift your toes. If it takes some effort to touch your knee to the wall, or you are unable to touch your knee to the wall, you have some work to do. The good news is that you can change this (unless you have metal rods or screws limiting your motion). It will take some effort, but our bodies are very moldable, even into our 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond.
You have options to make change. Myofascial release can help the tissues become more mobile and all the wonderful layers of fascia, ligaments, tendons and muscles glide freely. You can also learn to stretch your ankles along with all the other parts of your body that help support your function and keep you safe (um, all of your body).
Want to learn more, feel great, and have a body you can rely on to do what you want to be able to do? I’m starting natural movement classes again in October. The first 30 minutes of class will be focused on beginners so anyone at any age can join. More info here.
Not sure where to start or need a personalized program? Make an appointment for a New Client: Natural Movement Consultation. If you’re already a client, make a one-hour appointment.
It’s your move!