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Diana Remaley, LMT
19 Compo Road South
Westport, CT

Ankle Circles

Many clients schedule appointments in my office because of "calf pain." While the lower leg ("calf" doesn't have a large number of muscles, it is a very mobile area (we use it while we walk and even activate it often while we're laying down). Since strengthening the calf and ankle is often counterintuitive to pain, this stretch will explore increasing ankle agility, which can often result in a feeling of decreased pain. While this won't replicate the muscle release we feel during massage therapy, it's a wonderful practice to maintain ankle and lower leg health.

Anatomy Lesson:

I won't list all the lower leg muscles in this post, but rather just show this image of the back and front of the lower leg. The pink areas in the image are muscles; the light pink and white areas are tendons and ligaments. Tendons attach a muscle to a bone, and ligaments attach a bone to a bone. As you can see, your ankle and foot have quite a number of tendons and ligaments. Keeping these limber and soft with movement is a way to not only avoid future injury, but also move the lower leg muscles through their entire ranges of motion, rather than the simple step/push-off motion we use when we take a step.

When that single motion is only ever used, the lower leg can get into a habit of only using one or two muscles as we walk, when it should be using all of them.

The motions of the ankle are named as follows, and the degrees listed are typical ranges of motion (while sitting):

    • Toes pointed up: "Dorsiflexion" - 15-20 degrees
    • Toes pointed down: "Plantarflexion" - 30-50 degrees
    • Toes pointed out: "Eversion" - 15-20 degrees
    • Toes pointed in: "Inversion" - 30-50 degrees

I'm listing the ranges of motion so you don't try to push your ankle too far while performing this stretch; plantarflexion and inversion have the most motion, while dorsiflexion and eversion don't have much motion at all. DON'T FORCE YOUR JOINT BEYOND COMFORT.

The Stretch:

Keep the title of this movement in mind while you're doing it: "ANKLE CIRCLES." Very simply, you're moving the toes in as big a circle as you can, while keeping the ankle and lower leg completely still. Try to imagine drawing a circle in the air with your big toe.

While sitting, begin by pointing your toes down (plantarflexion). Try to keep your toes relaxed, and slowly move the foot into eversion, pointing the toes out. Keep moving in a circle to dorsiflexion (pointing up), and finally inversion (pointing in). You're only drawing as big a circle as possible with your toes, which sounds really easy, but is actually quite challenging!

When you've drawn a smooth circle in one direction, reverse it, starting in dorsiflexion, moving to inversion, plantarflexion, eversion and ending at dorsiflexion again.

If you notice tension or pain at any point while you're making the circles, pause for a moment and hold that position. You should notice the tension release when you give that area extra attention.

You can perform this motion one foot at a time to start, then both feet together when you get the hang of it. You will likely notice that your feet are not identical in motion - this is completely normal. Just as feet can be different sizes, they can have different ranges of motion. You can try to make them a little more even by performing a few more circles on the foot that has less range of motion, and by doing your ankle circles more frequently.

I perform this stretch constantly - I mean, while, I'm sitting in my office waiting for clients, under a desk, or under the table while I'm eating! As long as you respect your ranges of motion, you really can't overdo it.

While this stretch won't mimic the results of a massage therapy session, it can certainly aid you in keeping your ankles supple. So when you're ready for your calves to really be loosened, make an appointment in my Westport office. In the meantime, draw those circles!

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Diana Remaley, LMT
19 Compo Road South
Westport, CT