Ankle Mobility and how it relates to Basketball players overall joint health

It is that time of year again when winter sports seem to be taking over our lives. For many of us, that is music to our ears because that means basketball season has arrived.  All of the hard work from the off-season will be shown to coaches, early morning shoot around’s turn into Friday night rivalry games, and all of the conditioning is finally paying off. However, ankle mobility is something that always seems to be overlooked with basketball player’s health and preparation.


When assessing basketball players, one commonality that always seems to show is a lack of ankle mobility.  Why though?  The first factor that comes to mind is their selection of shoes.  With that factor in mind, I want you to visualize what a basketball shoe looks like. Got it? Good.  Is it a high top shoe? Chances are, the answer is yes.     


Most basketball players loves to have the newest and hottest pair of shoes to play in.  That in itself, is not the end of the world.  But!  This reaches far beyond the court.  Basketball players have taken their shoe ware and brought it to everyday life.  With this being said, these basketball players get laced up and walk around all day with high top shoes on, then they head to practice with high tops on, and then throw on another pair of high tops to go home in.  Something that no one is telling these athletes is that they are completely restricting their ankle mobility.  Once your ankle mobility is restricted, problems travel up the “chains” of the body. 


I am a big believer in proper joint health and function.  I am also a big believer in all joints work hand in had with one another.  What I mean by that is, all joints have to work as one to perform optimal movement patterns. If your ankle doesn’t move well, how can you expect your knees to work well, and if your knees don’t work well, how do you expect your hips to work well? 


When talking about the joints of the human body, there are many different kinds with many different purposes.  For example, your hips are ball and socket joints and have a very wide range of motion in multiple directions.  However, your knees are single axial joints that only move in one direction.  With this in mind, we can then look at joints as either “mobile” joints or “stable” joints.  There are joints that we encourage to be mobile through training and then others that we encourage to be stable through training.  When looking at the “chains” of the body that I referred to earlier, you start to see that stable joints aren’t next to other stable joints and mobile joints aren’t next to other mobile joints.   


A quick and broad overview of this is:

            Ankle                  ---        Mobility

            Knee                   ---        Stability

            Hip                      ---        Mobility

            Lumbar Spine  ---        Stability

            Thoracic Spine ---       Mobility

            Shoulder            ---        Stability


As you can see, mobile joints and stable joints complement each other while following the “chains” of the body. 


So where am I going with this?  If you take a mobile joint and immobilize it, the next joints up the chain will not be too happy.  For example, if a basketball player has limited ankle mobility, they will also have limited knee stability, limited hip mobility, limited lumbar spine stability, and so on and so forth. 


If you do proactive exercises to improve knee and lumbar stability, or hip and thoracic mobility, GREAT! Please continue.  But, if you don’t address the issue of ankle mobility, you are back to square one after the athlete takes one step. Literally.  


Basketball players will always wear high top shoes when they play.  That seems to be something that will never change, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Although, if we don’t get these athletes out of their high tops and work on proper joint function through the ENTIRE “chain”, we are going to eventually see problems.


Here at PWSI, we have a very distinct way of training our basketball players, and attacking ankle mobility tends to be the first step.  Don’t let your, or your young athlete’s health and performance be hindered by something as simple as ankle mobility. 


Adam McLaughlin

Panorama Wellness and Sports Institute

Ryan Murray