Ankle Mobility: A Brief Overview

In a previous post, we covered a self-guided assessment to see if you have adequate ankle mobility. If you have yet to watch that video or read about the assessment, you can do that here.

In the video below, we cover ankle mobility stretches in more detail, specifically ankle PAILS RAILS But for those of you that like to read, we will also explain the stretches via text.

If you did not have a joint-pinching sensation in the ankle self-assessment, but were unable to achieve 3-5 inches, OR you had significant stretching in the back of your calves, then you would benefit from theses stretches described below.

Ankle PAILS RAILS

PAILs and RAILs are fancy acronyms to describe isometric loading (strengthening) at varying angles. More specifically, PAILs stands for progressive angular isometric loading. RAILs stands for regressive angular isometric loading. The terms progressive and regressive just determine which of the tissues you are targeting. The progressive tissues are the tissues placed on stretch, and the regressive tissues are the tissues contracting on the closing side of a joint.

Terminology aside, PAILs and RAILs is just an active form of stretching. It is important to perform active stretching/strengthening for a few reasons:

1) You build strength in your new ranges of motion,

2) It tells your brain that it is safe to move in these new ranges, and

3) You are able to maintain these new ranges for the long-term.

Mobility Exercises Explained

Runner’s Stretch PAILS RAILS

This stretch is often performed passively without any isometric contraction. To make it an active stretch follow these instructions.

Standing with one of your foot’s toes on the wall and your leg straight (knee locked out), find a moderate stretch in your calf muscles. Hold this stretch passively for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, start to push your toes into the wall isometrically, working up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the PAILs portion). Next, start to pull your toes towards your shin while also pulling your knee towards the wall isometrically. Work up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the RAILs portion). Slowly start to relax and sink into more of a stretch in your calf for 30 seconds and then repeat the PAILs/RAILs contractions once more.

This stretch focused on your gastrocnemius since your gastrocnemius crossed the knee and inserts into the lower part of your femur.

Half-Kneeling Ankle PAILS RAILS

The soleus is often stretched in a very similar position as the typical runner’s stretch described above, but with a bent knee. It is performed with a bent knee because the soleus does not cross the knee and this allows a more specific stretch. However, this half-kneeling soleus stretch allows for more rigorous isometric contractions.

In a half-kneeling position with your foot flat on the ground, find a decent stretch in your calf muscles. Hold this stretch passively for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, start to push your toes into the ground isometrically, working up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the PAILs portion). Next, start to pull your toes towards your shin while also pulling your knee towards your toes isometrically. Work up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the RAILs portion). Slowly start to relax and sink into more of a stretch in your calf for 30 seconds and then repeat the PAILs/RAILs contractions once more.

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