Range of motion of the ankle, or any joint, is the measurable amount of movement in the joint. Ankle injuries and other types of injury of the lower leg can diminish range of motion. For those recovering from an injury, range of motion exercises increase the amount of movement in your ankle. If you're concerned about a limited ability to move your ankle, seek medical advice to ensure you don't have an underlying condition or undiagnosed injury.
Physical therapists use a device similar to a protractor to measure how far you can move your ankle in specific directions. The device, called a double-armed goniometer, measures the dorsal and plantar flexion of your ankle. To use the goniometer, the therapist places the stationary arm against your calf and measures the resting position of your foot. This defines neutral. She then measures how far you can flex your foot back to your calf, using the goniometer to define the number of degrees -- this is similar to measuring an angle with a protractor. This is your dorsi-flexion measurement. The next measurement is of how far you can bend your foot when you point, the plantar flexion.
The standard range of motion for dorsi-flexion is between 15 and 30 degrees. For plantar flexion, the typical range of motion is between 20 and 50 degrees. These ranges vary according to age, gender and type of injury.
Sprained ankle, Achilles tendinitis and arthritis are all conditions that can cause loss of range of motion in your ankle. Achilles tendinitis typically manifests as an inability to fully flex your foot, something for which your doctor will check during an exam. A sprained ankle, whether mild or severe, can also lead to loss of range of motion. If the sprain is severe and requires bracing, muscle atrophy may result in further loss of range of motion in your ankle.
To increase range of motion, therapists recommend a few simple exercises. They should be approached gently, as you need to build strength over time and pushing too hard may hamper your recovery. Start with sitting in a chair and drawing the alphabet with one foot, then the other, keeping your leg straight the entire time. If you find this too fatiguing, start with the first part of the alphabet, rest and continue. Continue with pumping your ankle. Sitting in a chair, raise your foot off the floor and flex and point it continually for one minute. If this is too fatiguing, try 15 flexes and 15 points, then resting and switching feet.
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