Understanding and Treating Stiff Ankles with Physiotherapy

by | Mar 6, 2024 | Injuries & rehabilitation

A man holding his ankle.

Experiencing restricted ankle mobility can significantly disrupt daily life, possibly leading to changes in your walking pattern, an increased risk of falls, and the potential for chronic pain over time. This blog will explore the factors contributing to ankle stiffness, the importance of comprehensive evaluations, and how Physiotherapy techniques can help to manage it. 

Causes of Stiff Ankles:

  • Joint stiffness after a period of immobilization
  • As a result of previous injuries like ankle sprains or fractures
  • Muscle tightness or inflexibility around the ankle
  • Inflammation of the tendons surrounding the ankle
  • Arthritis 

Assessment of Stiff Ankles:

A thorough assessment by a skilled physiotherapist is crucial in identifying the root causes of ankle stiffness and developing an effective management plan. 

The knee-to-wall test is a valuable tool for functionally evaluating ankle range of motion. During this test, the patient faces a wall, lunges forward, and attempts to touch the wall with the knee while keeping the heel grounded. If the task seems easy, the patient moves back, increasing the distance from the wall until achieving the farthest reach with a flat foot. The distance is measured and compared to the other side for an objective measure. Understanding where the patient feels the restriction is vital in determining the specific limitation affecting their movement.

Additional assessments may also include manual palpation to detect tightness, passive joint movements with the use of a goniometer to measure the precise range of motion and analysis of the patient’s walking pattern for compensatory mechanisms. The physiotherapist also identifies specific pain points, conducts muscle strength tests, and assesses for any pinching sensations. 

Physiotherapy Treatment and Mobilization:

The physiotherapy management plan focuses on addressing the limitations identified during the evaluation. For muscle tightness, the emphasis lies on stretching the tight muscles and soft tissue release techniques, while manual therapy and mobilization techniques are used to alleviate ankle stiffness. Ultrasound or laser therapy may be used if pain or inflammation plays a role in restricting the range of motion and in some cases, a combination of these techniques are used. 

It is however crucial to avoid becoming reliant on hands-on techniques for managing your stiff ankle. Your therapist will therefore create a personalised home exercise program to ensure that the progress achieved during your sessions is not only maintained but enhanced. 


By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the causes, undergoing a thorough assessment, actively participating in physiotherapy treatments, and diligently following prescribed home exercises, you can effectively overcome the challenges posed by stiff ankles. 

Don’t let stiff ankles limit your potential—book your session with us today!

You can also head over to our instagram page for a visual demonstration of the knee to wall test and some exercises you can use to address your stiff ankles. 

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