Ankle Mobility: Mobilizing the talus

Posted on September 20, 2012

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When talking about ankle mobility, the main aspect is always increasing dorsiflexion.

And this is for good reason. Dorsiflexion is one of those things a lot of people could use more of. Wearing heels or shoes with heel lifts (nearly every shoe people wear) can cause this lack of dorsiflexion. Watch how the achilles tendon gets progressively shorter the greater the heel lift.

Next, people rarely ever put themselves into a position that helps increase dorsiflexion. Think of the difference between you sitting in a chair all day and someone in a toddler squat position (like in cultures that still don’t have chairs).

To make up for this people will try and increase their dorsiflexion and ankle mobility by various ankle rocks, such as:

Sometimes though, you’ll have people do this and they won’t feel restricted in the achilles / calf. They’ll tell you they feel restricted in the front of the ankle. In fact, they may even get some pain or “jamming” there. This is a sign the achilles / calves are not what’s restricting dorsiflexion; it’s the talus. That is, it’s a bone issue; not muscle. Why does this happen? Let’s go back to footwear. If we look at the foot while it’s in a heel lifted shoe we get this:

Typically with a heel lift a person will have a forward plum line. In other words, they stand and walk around leaning a bit forward.

Therefore, the pressure into their feet is at an angle. For illustration sake, it could look something like this:

The arrows on the left depict the force of having a heel lifted shoe. The arrows on the right depict the forward plum line.
Notice how all the arrows end up with the talus being pushed upwards and forwards. Therefore, the talus ends up jamming into the tibia.

This pressure can push the talus forward. Thus, it’s gliding too far forward and not enough backward. This is very similar to anterior glide issues with the humerus and femur. This is what causes that jamming feeling during the ankle rocks we just talked about. Because the talus bone is sitting too far forward, it jams into the other bones, preventing dorsiflexion. You can do all the rocking you want, but you’re only jamming your bones together. You need to increase the posterior glide of the talus first in order to get anything out of the rocking.

Mobilizing the talus

There are a few ways to do this. The first is a tape technique I learned from the second edition of Movement System Impairment Syndromes. shirley sahrmann

For this you use the tape to accentuate posterior glide of the talus. It helps to tape the talus while in a position of dorsiflexion.

Credit to Movement System Impairment Syndromes.

This can be a bit tricky to do; it normally takes a few tape jobs before you get the right feel. It’s also not very comfortable. But it’s a nice way of mobilizing the talus without having to think about it. Tape it and forget it.

Another way to do this is to go through dorsiflexion with a posterior glide on the talus. Normally a towel or rope works well.

(I hope you all enjoyed Tillie’s YEE HAW!)

Then, if you want to start getting a bit fancier you can add this glide to other exercises. For instance, you can anchor the rope; put it around the ankle/talus and go through a step downmotion:

This is a bit more “functional.” Of course, if you have a tape job done you’re already doing this. Just another idea.

If you’re having issues with your ankle mobility give this a shot.

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