Recently, a client of mine complained that he couldn’t run farther than 3 miles without getting knee pain. He expressed his frustration because he felt he was doing everything right. He stretches and foam rolls daily, as well as strength trains with me weekly.

We ended up finding a simple solution to his problem, and it inspired me to write this blog post so that maybe his answer can be your answer.

Keep it Simple

My grandfather taught me that when faced with a problem, always look at the simplest solutions first. An anti-example: When the TV’s not working and you play with the remote for 10 minutes, call your dad to ask him what to do, then hit it a few times only to discover that it wasn’t plugged in.

The same concept can be used when fixing nagging aches and pains. What a lot of people don’t realize, is that when you get pain somewhere (re: the knees) it’s usually because of an imbalance or compensation of somewhere else (re: the ankles or hips). So in my client’s case, we looked from the ground up starting with his ankles.

I want you to do this is self test:

1. Stand up and find a sturdy chair or short table. Place your right foot on top of the chair.

2. Lean forward to see how far you can get your knee over your toes without lifting your right heel off of the surface.  Here’s what you might see:

If you can’t tell, have a friend look for you or do it in front of a mirror.

Good

Bad

3. If you can get pretty far over your toes, congratulations! you have good mobility; keep it up. If you feel as though your pretty stiff and get a pretty stellar calf stretch when you do this, you have some work to do.

4. Repeat with the left foot

In my clients case, his ankle mobility was lacking, and this ended up being the key to his pain.

Here’s what to do about it:

You’re in luck! I’m about to tell you how to fix your ankle mobility.

1. Foam roll and fascial release.

Start with foam rolling. If you don’t do it already, start doing it. Start with rolling both legs at the same time. If that feels comfortable, cross one ankle over the other to get some more pressure. This should be a “hurt so good” feeling. Play with the angles of your feet to get the inside and outside of your calf muscles too.

That’s not me by the way

The next step is to get even deeper in your achilles tendon. Find a barbell or a dumbbell with a small diameter handle. Have a seat, cross your ankles, and let all hell loose. This is not going to feel good… but I promise it will help.

Neither is that

If you still feel like you have a lot of tightness after doing this exercises consistently for a week or two, see a licensed manual therapist.

2. Active ankle mobility drills

There are a lot to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites, my all time favorite being the knee-to-wall drill, because your improvement is visible and obvious.

Knee-to-wall: Stand facing a wall, putting your right toes up against it. Lean to touch your knee to the wall. This should be fairly easy; repeat 5 times. Inch your toes back and repeat the knee to wall movement another 5 times. Continue to inch back your toes until you can just barely touch the wall WITHOUT lifting your right heel off the floor. Repeat with the left foot. If you want to track your improvement, leave a mark with a piece of tape or chalk, and compare from week 1 to week 3.

Here’s a video of knee to wall ankle mobility

Rocking ankle mobility: Get in a downward dog position. Cross one ankle over the other and lift and lower your heel. Switch and repeat 5x per side.

Calf raises: Place one foot on the edge of a step. Let your heel drop so you get a nice stretch in your calf, then raise your heel and come up on your tippy-toes. Repeat 5x per side.

Side Note

You might feel as though one side is tighter than the other. Take note of this and perform more mobility work on the side that is tighter.

The End of Part I!

I hope you found this information helpful. Give this stuff a try and let me know how it goes. My client emailed me a week after our discovery saying that he ran 6 miles over the weekend completely pain free! Even if you don’t have any pain, this is great for pre-hab. Part II will have some more simple solutions for you to try.

Until next time!

-L

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