Two ways to get Strong & Mobile Ankles

The ankle is the kinetic transfer of energy from the lower leg into the ground. It provides flexibility in movement and support for the entire body. This is important in daily movement and activities. During walking the ankle withstands forces five times the body weight, and fourteen times the body weight when running. This is a lot of ankle strength and mobility required for the whole body to enjoy freedom of movement. 


The Movements of Ankle 

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The ankle plantar flexes (points the ankle) and dorsiflexes (brings foot towards torso), inverts (rolls the sole in and upwards) and everts (rolls the sole outwards). This means that there is a lot of movement to navigate across all types of terrain, and the possibility for injury.

‘Rolling’ ankles are a common injury where these side muscles may be imbalanced. This can lead to strains and sprains of the ankle. A sprain is a ligament tear or stretch, this should normally heal itself with rest, compression, ice and elevation. However, seek a medical opinion if weight cannot be placed on the injured side, there is numbness or an inability to touch the injured site. 

Fractures of an ankle bone can be a tiny bone or something larger. Surgery is not always required depending on which bone is fracture and its severity. Always get it checked if there is:

  • Swelling

  • Deformity around the ankle

  • Bruising

  • Pain to touch

  • Inability to walk on the leg

It seems that the weight-bearing required in the ankle joint that transfers 77-90% of forces through the talar bone has less contribution on leading to degenerative conditions such as osteo-arthritis in the ankle joint. 


Anatomy of the Ankle 

ankle joint dorsi.jpg

The ankle joint has two malleoli - the lateral and medial, which are large conspicuous knobs on either side of the ankle. These are the ends of the fibula (lateral) and tibia (medial) bones which meet the talus that wedges between the distal ends of the lower leg bones.  There are four joints in the ankle stabilising and permitting movement in the overall ankle area.

The peroneus longus and brevis lift the lateral side of the foot outwards, and the tibialis posterior and anterior bring the sole inwards. 

The ‘calf’ muscles of gastrocnemius and soleus plantar flex the ankle and create ‘tippy toes’ along with the tibialis posterior assists that connects into the midfoot. In dorsiflexion the tibialis anterior lifts the foot to the face and this can be underdeveloped in modern bodies due to shoes with heels leaving the ankle joint slightly extended. The tibialis anterior attaches into the four toes from second to fifth. 

Plantaris is the longest tendon in the body and is connected evolutionarily to propulsion of the foot. It connects from the calcaneus across the back of the knee so requires full extension of  the knee and ankle for healthy function in walking and running, to propel the body through space. 

ankle anatomy.png

Fascial Connections

Key to the ankle in fascia are the ‘Superficial’ Back and Front Lines. The SFL has a reciprocal relationship with the SBL, similar to the rigging of a sailboat. The SBL pulls down from bottom to top, whereas the SFL pulls the front from neck to pelvis. Contraction of one line results in the lengthening of the other. For example, the yoga pose wheel the SBL is contracted and SFL lengthened, opposite to plough pose where the SBL is lengthened and SFL is contracted. 

Image from ‘Anatomy Trains’ by Tom Myers

Image from ‘Anatomy Trains’ by Tom Myers

Superficial Back Line 

The SBL begins down past the Achilles tendon and on the under surface of the foot to blend into the SBL on the lateral heel. Heel to knee is a key part of the ankle joint function. The plantar fascia covers the calcaneal periosteum sheath and thus, forms a continuous line into the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon is attached into the calcaneus itself due to the tension it must withstand, forming the root of the body to the ground. 

In tensegrity, the calcaneus is a compression strut where the tissues of the SBL move out from. Proper tension from this tibiotalar fulcrum spans up to the knee and toes. Over tightening of this fulcrum causes the body to lean and change the angle of the leg into the pelvis, shifting the pelvis and lumbar spine. 

Image from ‘Anatomy Trains’ by Tom Myers

Image from ‘Anatomy Trains’ by Tom Myers

Superficial Front Line 

Contraction of the SFL is a forward fold with the ankles dorsiflexed. The connection at the ankle is the thickening of the retinacular that holds the tendons down into the midfoot. For ankle balance this wants to be fluid in the fascia to provide mobility in movement. 

TEST ANKLE BALANCE:

  1. Point and flex the ankle seeing if the movement is even on the inner and outer sides of the foot. 

  2. Massage the front of the ankle and up into the front of the shin (retinacular). Notice which side feels tighter underneath the skin. 

  3. Repeat the ankle movement and see if it is more balanced. 

 
LDFL Fascia .jpeg

Lower Deep Front Line 

Passing through the ankle the tendon complex provides additional recoil in the push off phase of walking. As it connects into the lower leg it overlaps with the SFL and LL. Stability of the legs is impacted by this DFL as they tend to counterbalance the LL.

This is most obviously seen at the knees where ‘bow legged’ or ‘knock knees’ may be seen or ‘rolling over’ the ankle if unstable. 

Lateral Line Fascia.jpeg

Lateral Line 

Lateral Line goes up the front of the Achilles tendon and through the outside body until the splenus capitis and mastoid process (by the inner ear). The connection of this line to the inner ear and balance, which means that it plays a key role in lateral movements like swimming and walking.

Excessive side to side swinging in walking demonstrates adjustments needed to correct what should be a forward propulsion movement. 

Spiral Line Fascia full.jpeg

Spiral Line 

The SPL loops around the foot like a ‘stirrup’ from the fibularis longus via the first metatarsal base and back up the tibialis anterior. Imbalances are seen where the tibialis anterior is locked short and the ankle pronated/ everted.

Strengthening work is required to rebalance the ankle complex.


Energetics of the Ankle 

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Many meridians trace from the feet up through the body. Depending on which meridian is affected will impact ankle or other issues found in the body. Key acupressure points can help the energy flow better and reduce any stiffness or discomfort in the ankle joint. The meridians are:

  1. Up the anterior of the ankle runs the Liver and Stomach Meridians. 

  2. Across the posterior of the ankle is the Bladder meridian. 

  3. Laterally is the Gall Bladder Meridian. 

  4. On the medial ankle is the Spleen Meridian and Kidney Meridian. 

Shamanism

  • The ankle is the support system that connects the feet to the body. They reflect the support that we need from others and our beliefs in how they match our values and desire to live. 

  • A broken ankle is to highlight that something important needs to be reviewed in life - whether it is the supportive relationships or beliefs that are the foundation. 

  • Sprained ankles are a sign of inflexibility to adapt and move with the changes of life. Reconnect to underlying values and be brave - say what you are afraid to say. 

  • Swollen ankles are holding onto the weight of something that we are not ready to let go into the Earth. 

  • If emotionally feeling unsupported then work on the emotions and strengthen the ankles to prevent any injuries. 


Holistic Training of the Ankles 

Energetically, review beliefs and consider the support available. Perhaps ask:

  • Is it possible to ask for a different kind of support from that which you are being offered? 

  • What beliefs restrict you from receiving the support that you deserve? 

  • Can I view change as an opportunity to discover something new?

  • What do I need to let go of that reduces my support?

The classic exercises for the ankles are:

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Check out our video for a full workout to train the fascial lines, muscles and energy pathways of the ankles. 

  • Invert & evert with a towel or flexband

  • Calf raises

  • Calf stretch

  • Step ups (on 1 side)

  • Balance & reach in various directions

  • Side lying leg lifts

  • Ankle circles

  • Forward & back bends

  • Ankle on a block stretches

  • Standing side lunges/ mermaids/ curtsy/

  • Wobble board

  • Squats

  • Fascia bounce on back with heels

  • Calf stretch (soleus/ gastrocnemius)

  • Rolling foot

  • Plantar stretch

  • Dynamic ankle

  • Cross training movements - side/ cross/ back etc

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ResourceS to write this article:

Anatomy Trains by Tom Myers

Fascia by Robert Schleip

Energy Medicine by Donna Eden

Trail Guide to the Body by Andrew Beil

The Subtle Body Practice Manual by Cyndi Dale

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4994968/