Importance of Ankle and Hip Mobility and how Physical Therapy can Help

Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern that we often take for granted. Whether you’re an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or simply someone who wants to maintain functional fitness, squatting plays a pivotal role in your daily life. We take for granted how often we squat in everyday life. Getting up and down from the couch, sitting on the toilet, picking something off the ground. However, the ability to perform a proper squat isn’t solely dependent on leg strength or trunk stability. A key component of a healthy squat are ankle and hip mobility.

Ankle and hip mobility are equally essential components that are often overlooked. In this blog post, we’ll explore the significance of ankle and hip mobility during squatting activities and how improving them can lead to better performance, reduce pain and future risk of injury, and enhanced overall fitness level and quality of life. 

What are the Components of a Squat?

The hips and ankles play a crucial role in determining how deep you can squat while maintaining proper form. Restricted mobility at these two sites can result in a shallow squat, limiting the exercise or causing difficulty when completing movements in your daily life which require a squatting movement. 

Before we dive into the importance of ankle and hip mobility, let’s review the mechanics of a squat. A squat is one of the six main functional movement patterns, also including lunge, hinge, push, pull and carry.  A proper squat involves multiple joints: 

Hips: Hip flexion and external rotation while maintaining a neutral spine

Knee: Knee flexion and tibial internal rotation

Ankle: Dorsiflexion while tibia translates over talus 

To achieve this, you need adequate mobility in all listed areas, specifically with the ankles and hips. If you start to feel a pinching sensation in the front part of your ankle when squatting or you have to turn your feet out to squat, likely, you have poor mobility in one or more of these areas. 

What is Mobility and Why is it Important?

The ability of a joint to have strength through a large range of motion is mobility. To learn more about mobility and controlled articular rotations (CARs), read this blog we posted:  CARs: Mobility of Joints. It is important to have proper mobility for a squatting movement to avoid injury such as knee, hip and back pain. It can also improve performance, and increase strength gains and overall improve performance during lifting activities.

  1. Forward Movement: During a squat, your knees should track over your toes. Limited ankle mobility can prevent this, causing your heels to lift off the ground. This not only compromises your balance but also places excessive stress on your knees.
  2. Depth and Stability: Insufficient ankle mobility can limit your ability to reach proper squat depth. This can lead to compensation patterns, such as rounding the lower back, or loss of balance backwards, which increase the risk of injury. Adequate ankle mobility allows you to maintain a stable and controlled squat throughout the entire range of motion.

How can I Test for Mobility Limitations?

When testing for ankle mobility, a licensed Physical Therapist can help you to address all limitations present by completing special tests and a movement analysis.

Mobility excerise for squatting

For the ankle, one of the tests we use for dorsiflexion mobility is the Knee to wall test: Facing towards a wall, place a ruler running perpendicular to the wall. Place your big toe at the 5” mark and while keeping your heel on the ground, lean forward to bring your knee to the wall. 

If your knee is not able to reach the wall, you have either a mobility deficit of the ankle into dorsiflexion or tight muscles of the gastrocnemius/soleus. A pinching feeling on the front part of the ankle would indicate a mobility deficit. Whereas a pulling feeling on the back of the heel would be a tightness of muscles. 

For the hip, FABER test and FADDIR are used to measure external rotation (ER) and internal rotation (IR) range of motion, respectively. Any difference between the right and left sides indicate an affected hip joint which may be playing a role into limited squatting ability.

Importance of Ankle and Hip Mobility and how Physical Therapy can Help
ankle training for squatting

What does Physical Therapy look like for Mobility Deficits?

Ankle and hip mobility training

How can I Improve Ankle Mobility

Ankle mobility can be improved in a variety of different ways including joint mobilizations performed by the physical therapist, banded mobilizations, muscle specific stretches. To improve ankle mobility, we want to consider gastroc and soleus stretches, ankle dorsiflexion mobilizations with movement, and mobility exercises. 

Banded Ankle DF joint Mobilization with Movement:

Pictured above is a mobilization technique that allows for the distal part of the tibia to move forward on the talus and allow for a greater ankle dorsiflexion ROM. This helps specifically when you have a “pinching” sensation in the front of the ankle when bending or squatting.

Tibial internal rotation: Another movement that occurs as you squat down is tibial internal rotation which is a movement that occurs at the knee joint. If there is limited tibial IR, squatting will be affected and will require more compensatory movements at the ankle or hip joint.

Hip and ankle mobility training for squatting
Hip and ankle mobility training for squatting
Hip stretch for squatting

How can Physical Therapy Improve Hip Mobility?

For squatting specifically, we want to improve hip flexion and hip external rotation. Incorporating exercises including banded joint mobilizations (with and without movement, hip controlled articular rotations, hip stretches, and glute activation drills into your pre-squat routine. Specific hip mobility-focused workouts can also be effective in increasing hip range of motion. Mulligan belted mobilization (pictured on left) can also be performed by physical therapist for greater joint mobility and can be performed with movement into external or internal rotation depending on noted deficits.

Why Visiting a Physical Therapist Would Help me?

Squatting is a huge part of daily life and functional movement. Without proper performance of a squat, it can lead to compensations at other parts of the body, pain in knees, or difficulty and lack of independence with certain aspects of life. The often overlooked importance of ankle and hip mobility help us in achieving a proper squat which is a useful movement in all our daily lives.

By investing time and effort in improving these areas, you’ll not only enhance your squatting performance but also reduce the risk of injury and enhance your overall fitness and well-being. With the help of physical therapy, and proper progressions to assist in teaching you ankle and hip mobility, you can reduce pain, improve independence, and prevent future issues. This will play a crucial role in improving functional movements such as squatting. If you have any difficulty completing transfers from sitting, have difficulty picking up items placed at lower surfaces or pain when squatting, and are looking for a Physical Therapist, come see us at Symmetry Physical Therapy, located in Miami/Brickell downtown area, where we provide an in-depth assessment and treatment strategies so we can help you return to a pain free lifestyle. 

Feel free to give us a call at (305) 331 2277 to schedule an appointment.

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