Sufficient ankle mobility is necessary for the knee to move forward over the toes with movements such as squatting, lunging, and going down stairs.  Limited ankle mobility can lead to dysfunctional movement patterns, compensation, and pain at joints up the chain including knees, hips, and lower back.


What’s causing your stiff ankles?

There are a variety of structures that can contribute to ankle stiffness including:

  1. tight gastroc muscle
  2. tight soleus muscle
  3. tight Achilles tendon
  4. decreased talus mobility
  5. buildup of scar tissue or bone spurs 


If you experience a pulling sensation or discomfort in the back of your leg/ankle when going into dorsiflexion (moving your shin closer to your foot), you likely have some type of soft tissue tightness. The muscles and tendon in the back of your leg, including the gastroc, soleus, and Achilles, could be causing your ankle stiffness. Here are two exercises that can help improve flexibility and ankle mobility.



The best way to effectively create change in muscle length is by lengthening the muscle under tension. This is called eccentrics.  Perform calf raises on an elevated surface allowing the heel to drop off the step. Pressing up with two feet and lowering with one will allow you to stretch the tight muscle under tension and then contract it through its full available range of motion. This will create structural changes more effective than just stretching the muscle. 



Joint mobility requires flexibility in one muscle group and strength in the opposing muscle group. PAILs and RAILs use this concept of length and strength to improve joint mobility. Check out the video below for a full tutorial on how to increase ankle mobility using PAILs and RAILs.



If you experience pinching pain in the front of your ankle with dorsiflexion, it could be due to limited mobility of the talus bone, buildup of scar tissue, or bone spurs in the front of the ankle. Try this banded ankle mobilization to help decrease pain and stiffness. If you continue to experience pain and stiffness, seek guidance from an orthopedic physical therapist. 


Written by Hannah Sweitzer, DPT, OCS, CSCS