Ankle stiffness or lack of mobility is common impairment in many patients with lower quarter symptoms including ankle, knee, and hip pain. Limitations at this important joint create compensations up the body, most commonly at the knee, and create dynamic alignment impairments within the lower body. These biomechanical changes may present during walking, stair climbing, squatting, and running. A variety of exercises are available to address limited ankle mobility including soft tissue and joint interventions (stretching, band assisted stretching). In addition, Physical Therapists may utilize joint mobilizations designed to improve mobility between the leg and ankle bones helping to restore normal range of motion at the ankle. A recent study highlights how quickly individuals can regain mobility after these techniques.
In the journal Physical Therapy adults with limited ankle mobility were randomized to either 6 sessions of Physical Therapy joint mobilizations or a sham/placebo manual therapy group (Hernandez-Guillen et al. 2020). Authors assessed weight bearing ankle mobility at the beginning and end of the trial, as well as, after each session of the hands on joint mobilizations. They reported the greatest gains (8 degrees) of ankle mobility were found after the first session with slower gains over the remaining 5 sessions. These results are consistent with our Boulder Physical Therapy practice findings with manual therapy being more effective early in a patient case before being replaced with high level exercise.