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Utilizing the Belt Ankle Stretch to Heal Ankle Accidents and Improve Ankle Mobility – iRunFar

Stay the CourseThe foot and ankle mixed is the commonest space for each acute damage and continual ache for path runners and ultrarunners.

Accidents to the Achilles tendon, ankle, and foot are by far the commonest points — accounting for as much as two-thirds of all accidents that path runners and ultrarunners encounter (1).

That is seemingly due to the calls for of each distance and terrain — broadly different inclination, angulation, and composition of the floor underfoot — place an enormous demand on the foot and ankle to effectively flex, lengthen, and tilt with every step.

Ankle model front view

Ankle joint entrance view, with talus (center), tibia (bigger) and fibula (smaller) bones circled. All images iRunFar/Joe Uhan until in any other case famous.

Whether or not acute calls for or continual overload, components of the foot and ankle might transfer an excessive amount of or too little to adapt to the terrain, leading to over-stretch, pressure, and potential tissue damage. Generally injured tissues embrace the ankle ligaments, connecting bones of the decrease leg and the foot, and tendons — such because the Achilles tendon behind the ankle, the posterior tibialis tendon on the within, the peroneal tendon on the surface, and the plantar fascia on the underside, to call a number of.

Ankle - lateral side

Ankle joint lateral view: fibula and talus circled (pink) with lateral ankle ligaments (yellow).

Word that strains seek advice from overstretched, partially, or absolutely torn comfortable tissues like muscle tissue, tendons, and fascia; sprains contain particular damage to tissue connecting two bones in a joint, normally ligaments.

Ankle - inversion

Ankle joint rear view, displaying lateral ankle ligaments and inversion sprain mechanism.

Acute Accidents and Continual Issues With the Ankle and Foot

Even in case you don’t acutely injure your foot or ankle on the paths, that doesn’t assure you freedom from future ache.

Rugged path working may cause different foot and ankle points that, initially, could also be extra delicate, however over time may cause — and perpetuate — ache and dysfunction. Steep, technical terrain may trigger joint misalignment. This happens when numerous bones in a system lose their effectivity, balanced articulation, and fluid motion.

This typically occurs at instances of a extreme sprain, when the foot and ankle system strikes past its wholesome vary. For instance, touchdown solely midway onto a slender rock with the medial foot might enable the lateral foot to fall farther, inflicting a tissue-straining drop of the lateral foot. That is the commonest reason for lateral ankle sprains.

However in the midst of that sprain occasion, bones may additionally be pulled out of alignment. And sadly, whereas sprained comfortable tissues typically heal on their very own, bones which have misplaced their environment friendly place and motion seldom regain that effectivity with out assist.

Joint misalignment may occur with non-injurious however repetitive loading in an asymmetrical method. For instance, working for a protracted interval on a aspect hill might place an unbalanced load onto the foot and ankle that, over time, might not solely pressure tissue, however trigger subtle-but-significant bone shifts that later consequence within the lack of environment friendly motion as soon as you come to the flat.

Once more, like an acute damage, as soon as bones have misplaced alignment, they typically require extra and focused efforts to revive regular place and motion.

Ankle and Foot Anatomy and Operate

The ankle is the articulation of the decrease leg, comprised of two bones, the tibia and fibula, and the foot, containing 36 bones. The talus bone is the go-between for the decrease leg and the remainder of the foot.

Purposeful motion on the ankle happens largely between the talus and the decrease leg. The 2 main working actions are dorsiflexion — the foot and toe within the up place — and plantarflexion — with the foot and toe within the down place.

Functionally, the foot dorsiflexes after we land on it and the physique passes over it, after which once more after we swing by, to shorten the entire limb for environment friendly ahead movement.

The foot plantarflexes as the ultimate side of the leg push-off, after which barely plantarflexes once more, simply earlier than preliminary contact.

Ankle - dorsiflexion

Ankle joint lateral view, displaying dorsiflexion.

Ankle - plantarflexion

Ankle joint lateral views, displaying plantar flexion.

Aspect-to-side ankle motions are additionally vital. Inversion is when the highest of the foot angles outward, and weight is totally on the periphery. Eversion is when the underside angles outward, and the load is totally on the inside edge. These frontal airplane motions are key for impression — and variable terrain — attenuation. The foot naturally lands barely lateral (in an inverted place), earlier than evenly rolling inward towards eversion. This outward-to-inward movement is also referred to as pronation (the place an inward to outward movement is supination.)

Outdoors-to-inside rolling at foot strike provides a cushioning impact to our touchdown. The outer foot absorbs the bottom first. Then, because the physique passes over the foot, we roll onto the medial arch, the a part of the foot used for probably the most highly effective push-off.

The foot and ankle advanced has extra mobility to deal with uneven surfaces: additional inversion movement for a managed touchdown on an angled floor; additional eversion helps the medial arch get to the bottom for a powerful push-off.

To a degree, at the least If the terrain is simply too excessive in angle, or too free, and the touchdown forces too nice, the foot and ankle could also be pressured to maneuver past their given vary. That is how tissue strains.

How the Ankle Loses Motion and Effectivity

Acute sprains or repetitive imbalanced loading may cause large-magnitude or small, repetitive forces that shift bones misplaced. The most typical space for this to happen is between the talus, tibia, and fibula.

Issues With the Fibula

This lateral shin bone, as a result of it doesn’t technically bear weight, has outstanding mobility. That is good to permit each movement and athleticism, but it surely’s vulnerable to getting out of alignment. It might shift ahead or again, however extra generally, it may well shift upward towards the knee or down.

With inversion ankle sprains, the power of a tough roll can truly pull the fibula down, nearer to the heel. It will get caught on this depressed place and, satirically, will hold forcing all the foot and ankle right into a lateral-loading, inverted place. It additionally retains the lateral ligaments on slack. That is the commonest cause for continual ankle instability.

Issues With the Talus

The most typical ankle dysfunctions happen when the talus will get out of alignment. It both turns into tilted to 1 aspect or the opposite, or rotated. When that occurs, the dominant actions — dorsiflexion and plantarflexion — are misplaced. The most typical movement misplaced is dorsiflexion.

Issues With the Tibia

As the principle weight-bearing bone of the decrease leg, the tibia doesn’t essentially get into a foul place. As an alternative, it may well do certainly one of two issues.

First, it generally loses its fluid glide towards the talus. Particularly, it should fold with the talus for dorsiflexion. If it may well’t fold, it typically rotates externally as a substitute.

This achieves some ankle movement, however is dangerous information for the knee: a twisting tibia creates a rotational stress on the knee joint. Tibial and femoral torsion is the first reason for knee ache, stiffness, and tissue injury.

Second, there’s a joint between the tibia and fibula. An extended spiderweb-like connective tissue, known as the syndesmosis, runs between the 2 bones to assist hold them linked. Then two tie-down ligaments join the bones on the prime and backside, and back and front. Unhealthy sprains or imbalanced loading can change the spacing of the tibia and fibula, inflicting motion issues.

An excessive amount of house between them? That’s the mechanism of a high-ankle sprain.

Video Displaying Environment friendly Alignment and Inefficiency Points within the Talus, Fibula, and Tibia

Issues Attributable to Stiff, Misaligned Ankles

The foot and ankle are the place the “rubber” of our physique meets the “street” of the world. For blissful, wholesome working, this “assembly” have to be environment friendly — not solely to stop foot and ankle ache, but additionally to make sure environment friendly motion all through the remainder of the physique.

When the ankle loses environment friendly motion, the next points can happen on the foot and ankle:

  • Misplaced dorsiflexion, plantarflexion, eversion, and inversion motions
  • Imbalanced weight bearing by way of extreme load transmission — each static standing and dynamic touchdown and push-off — on the medial or lateral foot
  • Inefficient movement of the tibia and fibula

When this occurs, all kinds of issues can happen, all through the physique.

Continual Ankle Ache

That is an apparent one. If the bones and surrounding tissues don’t transfer appropriately, the ankle can damage with impression and motion calls for. That is typically worse with uphill working which calls for extra dorsiflexion, or on uneven surfaces.

How to Trail Run - Cornering

Continual ankle ache will be made worse by uneven surfaces. Picture: Human Kinetics/Kirsten Kortebein

Continual Ankle Instability and Repetitive Sprains

I’ve mentioned for years, “An ankle that may’t transfer the fitting method will transfer the incorrect method.” As soon as bones are out of alignment, there’s typically a motion that’s stiff or fully locked up, whereas the other motion is extreme. This typically happens after a forceful inversion sprain. It’s seldom that the lateral ligaments are completely free. Moderately, that the bones are aligned in such a method that the ligaments are on slack.

Plantar Foot Ache

A foot with imbalanced loading will put an excessive amount of power on one aspect of the foot. This will trigger extreme pronation, for instance, or just an excessive amount of power by a small space of the foot. That is typically answerable for frequent points like plantar fasciitis and posterior tibialis strains.

Shin Ache

Medial or lateral shin ache can happen by the identical mechanism as foot ache, or imbalanced loading within the aspect (frontal) airplane placing extreme static or dynamic touchdown power onto both aspect of the decrease leg.

Knee Ache

Continual and sometimes imperceptible ankle dysfunction is a significant contributor to knee ache. Environment friendly knee movement requires the tibia to trace in a largely straight line because the knee flexes and extends. Knee flexion additionally happens throughout working after we strike the bottom and cross over the foot. If dorsiflexion is misplaced — or is inefficient — the tibia will typically rotate, quite than effectively flex. This rotation may cause torsional and/or shear forces that lead to knee pressure and ache.

A runner with knee pain

Continual ankle dysfunction is a significant contributor to knee ache. Picture: Shutterstock

Hip Ache

Full hip extension requires full ankle dorsiflexion. After we land on one foot and cross over it, the ankle should proceed to dorsiflex by its full vary, to ensure that the hip to completely lengthen. Misplaced dorsiflexion will lead to untimely toe-off and poor hip extension. Should you attempt to run quicker than dorsiflexion permits, this typically leads to…

Low Again Ache

Misplaced ankle dorsiflexion will lower off hip extension. Extended working or quick working might trigger the physique to realize higher practical push-off by extending on the low again. Repetitive, forceful low again extension will be compressive and straining to the joints and tissues of the lumbar backbone.

So many issues can come up from a stiff, dysfunctional ankle — and one that’s typically impervious to traditional stretching.

“Stroll it Off and Stretch it Out:” Why Fundamental Mobility Usually Fails on the Ankle Joint

One would possibly assume that such a vital joint because the ankle wouldn’t so simply turn into stiff and dysfunctional. That, after a foul sprain or a long-and-crazy mountain run, the ankle would regain its full, environment friendly movement.

Sadly, that’s seldom the case. Why? As a result of whereas fluid and athletic mobility is beneficial, resilient power and stability is much extra vital for survival and long-term well being. Little wiggle room is constructed into the ankle advanced. Thus, when bones within the ankle advanced transfer even barely off-axis, stability is maintained, however effectivity will be misplaced. Ultimately, stability all the time wins out.

As such, restoring joint effectivity typically requires particular methods to the bones, themselves, quite than common stretching.

Mobility of the ankle entails a number of tissue methods. Gentle tissues should transfer. These embrace the muscle tissue, tendons, and surrounding fascia and connective tissues — even blood vessels and nerves should transfer.

However actually on the core, for environment friendly ankle joint mobility, the bones should transfer. Bony joint motion requires greater than the pulling of muscle tissue. The surfaces of bones should slide and glide towards one another to create motion. This requires two intrinsic issues, the correct alignment — bony surfaces mendacity flush towards each other — and a level of friction-reducing joint lubrication between these surfaces. (That lubrication, hyaluronic acid, is mentioned on this article about fascial mobility.)

Joint lubricant is current in all joints however requires full and environment friendly motion to hydrate, coat, and thus transfer all of the surfaces of bones making up a joint. If a joint loses movement — both from primary stiffness or misalignment, that lubricant fails to coat these bony edges.

If both component — alignment or lubrication — is misplaced, the joint merely gained’t transfer as far, or with ease.

On the similar time, it’s doable, when performing a primary stretch, to mobilize the encompassing comfortable tissue with out bettering joint movement. This typically happens when performing a calf stretch. Bending on the ankle, leaning towards a wall, will most actually lengthen muscle tissue, tendons, and fascia buildings within the backside of the foot and again of the ankle and decrease leg. However doing so typically does little to actively slide-and-glide the tibia and fibula on the talus, particularly if these bones are out of alignment or stubbornly stiff.

Lengthy intervals of froth rolling and stretching might lengthen the calf, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia, however ultimately a wall is hit with a stiff ankle joint. Runners with this difficulty typically will really feel a pinch within the entrance or sides of the ankle when making an attempt a standard calf stretch. This sensation outcomes from the bones failing to glide on each other.

Regardless of how a lot extra stretching is completed, little will budge a inflexible and sometimes twisted talus, a translated fibula, and a frozen tibia.

As an alternative, this stiff joint requires bigger forces, focusing on particular components of the ankle. Enter the belt ankle stretch.

Belted ankle stretch

The writer performing a belt ankle stretch.

Focused Dorsiflexion Pressure With the Belt Ankle Stretch

Clinically, restoring ankle alignment and movement ceaselessly requires hands-on guide therapy. First, particular power to re-align the bones — specifically the tibia, fibula, and talus — into an environment friendly, impartial place. Then, since misaligned joints have typically been poor in lubrication for extended intervals, much more power is required to revive these practical motions, most notably dorsiflexion.

Ankle joint mobilization is each nuanced and onerous work. And, like a rusty hinge not too long ago freed, it additionally requires ongoing doses of forceful movement to maintain it shifting. And because it’s very costly to take a guide physiotherapist or different physique employee residence with you after hours, another technique was developed to ship focused power to the ankle joint within the belt ankle stretch.

Ankle dorsiflexion requires primarily two motions: a impartial talus to glide posteriorly (versus the foot under it), and the tibia and talus to fold (or posteriorly glide) on both aspect of the talus. As a result of each methods glide posteriorly, the talus movement is small, and the tibia-fibula movement is bigger.

The belt ankle stretch is an easy approach to apply an anterior-to-posterior power to each the talus and tibia-fibula advanced. It facilitates these essential glides with focused power concentrated within the small space of a belt or strap.

To carry out the belt ankle stretch:

  • Get hold of a protracted belt or strap. I choose a yoga strap, used for supportive stretching. The strap needs to be between one and two inches huge, and made of fabric with minimal stretch. It needs to be lengthy sufficient to create a three- to four-foot loop.
  • Loop the band on an immovable object, low to the bottom. The belt have to be secured at floor stage, and the extent of the ankle. Then, the belt have to be connected to an immovable construction, corresponding to a publish, piping, or an in any other case very heavy object. A considerable power is utilized to the belt, which can transfer something not secured.
  • Loop the band across the entrance of the ankle. The entrance of the loop needs to be positioned on the base of the ankle, in entrance of and across the ankle bones.
  • Step away from the publish till the band is taut. To boost the strain, elevate the toes and shimmy the heel as far ahead as doable.
  • Rock ahead onto the entire foot. This may maximally pressure the band across the entrance of the ankle. Stress needs to be pretty intense however not painful.

For maximal stretch, apply two completely different actions. Conserving the entire foot flat:

  • Rock ahead on the hips.
  • Flex and lengthen the knee.

This creates dynamic (assume lubricating) motion within the ankle advanced, of the tibia and fibula on the talus, and the talus upon the foot bones under it.

Carry out gradual oscillations of every motion for 30 to 90 seconds, a number of instances to the affected ankle. Retest dorsiflexion out of the strap.

For inflexible ankles, this stretch needs to be carried out twice a day, together with instantly earlier than working, till the ankle movement is constantly improved. After that, the belt stretch is beneficial for infrequent check-ins, particularly when working excessive mileage on uneven and heavy vertical acquire and loss.

Video Demonstration of the Belt Ankle Stretch

Maintain Onto That Movement!

To keep up newly gained dorsiflexion movement, we have to strengthen into it. This reminds each the joint and the mind that there’s extra movement obtainable.

Carry out energetic dorsiflexion in sitting or standing, with a straight or bent knee. Elevate slowly, and to finish vary as excessive as you may elevate your foot and toes, and decrease as many instances as you may till fatigue. Carry out this instantly after the belt ankle stretch for finest vary of movement upkeep.


The ankle might have the largest impression of any joint on whole-body working effectivity, affecting the toes and ankles, in addition to the knees, hips, and even backbone. Dorsiflexion is among the many most important working motions, but it’s the best to lose amidst the calls for of extremely distances, terrain, and vertical.

Maintain the ankle cellular, and assist restore post-sprain mobility losses, utilizing this belt approach. It might be the one most impactful mobility enter to your working.

Name for Feedback

  • Has an ankle damage and its knock-on results ever gotten in the way in which of your working?
  • Did you discover this recommendation useful?


  1. “Damage and Sickness Charges Throughout Ultratrail Operating.” G. Vernillo, A. Savoldelli, A. La Torre, S. Skafidas, L. Bortolan, F. Schena. “Worldwide Journal of Sports activities Drugs,” 2016.



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