Find Your Place: Check Your Ankle Mobility

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Stiff ankles can cause problems for your knees, hips, and back. How well do your ankles bend?

From a half-kneeling position with one foot flat on the floor, how far forward can you lean? In this video, SilverSneakers fitness expert David Jack, along with physical therapist Mark Greenwood, explains how this quick test can give you clues about your ankle dorsiflexion—or the ability to bend the foot toward the shin.

You’ll need some padding for the floor, such as a pillow or folded towel, as well as something to hold on to for support, like a sturdy chair or wall. Try the test now, then see what your results mean below. If you have ankle or foot injuries, or can’t get down on the floor safely, skip the test, but check out the tips below.

If Your Ankles Were Able to Move Easily with No Pain

That’s a sign you have good ankle mobility and dorsiflexion. If you took the ankle health test, you know that the ankles play a vital role in total-body stability and movement. You also know they can move in a variety of directions, such as when you make a circle with your foot. This test looks specifically at dorsiflexion, which you need to move your foot forward and backward.

Keep your ankles in good shape with any of the ankle health test recommendations or these four foot exercises. What else helps: a variety of movements, such as those in SilverSneakers classes or many sports.

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If You Noticed Resistance, Pain, or an Imbalance Between Ankles

That’s a sign you may have stiffness in one or both ankles, or imbalances in the muscles that move your ankles. Why that’s a problem: If your ankles can’t move well, that forces other areas—your knees, hips, or back, for example—to compensate. And this can cause pain or injury.

Try the tips and exercises above to see if they help. If you noticed that one ankle doesn’t move as well as the other, you may want to start with or add a few extra reps for that side.

Still have pain or continue to notice that one ankle doesn’t move as well as the other? That’s a sign to talk to your doctor, who can help you figure out if there’s an underlying injury or issue. To make your conversation easier, jot dot your symptoms:

  • Where you are experiencing the pain
  • When the pain started and how often it occurs
  • Any other symptoms you are experiencing, including any previous falls or fear of falling

If You Have an Ankle or Foot Injury

Working with your doctor or physical therapist can help you resume activity safely. Ask these questions:

  • Do I need additional medical treatment or physical therapy?
  • When can I start exercising on my own again?
  • What types of exercise are appropriate for me, and what types should I avoid?

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SilverSneakers gives you free, unlimited access to more than 15,000 gyms and fitness centers across the nation, plus classes and tools designed to keep older adults strong and independent. Check your eligibility instantly here. Already a member? Get your SilverSneakers member ID and exclusive content by logging in to or creating your online account here.

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