Decreased Dorsiflexion: Why it Matters to Your Squat

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Dorsiflexion: Movement of the ankle which brings the toes closer to the shin.  The tibialis anterior and the ankle extensor muscles (deep to the front of the leg) guide this motion.  Typical range is about 12 to 18 degrees.

Plantarflexion: Movement of the ankle that increases the angle between the front of the foot and the shin.  Driven by the calf muscles, deep flexor muscles, and peroneal muscles, this is the motion you would do in order to step on the gas pedal or go “up on tiptoes”.

The most critical movement in a squat is maintaining a neutral or slightly extended spine as you lower down.  Once the low back rounds into flexion, the form breaks, and there is a dangerous load on the low back muscles (vs. a safe load on the glutes that you are trying to train).  In an ideal squat, you are shifting your weight back like you’re sitting in a chair.  A beginner’s mistake is to lean too far forward, which forces your knees to track forward of your feet.  So you’ve checked your form, and you initiate the posterior weight shift, and you lower down to close to 90 degrees…and, weird, you just feel like you can’t get any lower!  Your coach or friend is rooting “lower!”  But you just can’t get any lower.  You feel strong, but you can’t get any lower and feel stuck.

One thing that often limits athletes in a squat is limited dorsiflexion.  One way to check this is:

1.  Squat normally, check the angle between your hips, knees, and ankles.

2.  Slide 1″ blocks or weight plates under your heels.  Squat again and re-check the angle.

Did it get easier?  Could you sit further back?  Did you have a lower squat and an decreased angle?  If you answered “yes”, you have poor dorsiflexion.  It’s a questionable strategy to squat with the blocks under your heels, but it may train you into a better motor pattern until you resolve your dorsiflexion problem.

To correct limited dorsiflexion:

1.  Pick a dynamic exercise to start increasing your dorsiflexion.

2.  Foam roll your calves, or use TheStick or another self-myofascial tool to loosen up tight calf muscles and address calf trigger points that are contributing to the problem.

Perform these two actions twice a day for two weeks, and then re-check your squat.  If you haven’t gained any mobility, you may need professional services from a sports chiropractor.  A sports chiropractor in Oakland can diagnose and treat the cause of your decreased ankle dorsiflexion.  Some possible problems that may be found on exam include:

*Mis-aligned or fixated talus bone.
*Adhesions in gastrocnemius, soleus, achilles tendon, or deep calf flexor muscles.
*Adhesions in the extensor retinaculum at the front of the ankle.
*Peroneal muscle dysfunction due to an old ankle sprain that never got any rehab.

To schedule an appointment with an Oakland sports chiropractor, please call (510) 465-2342.

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