Exploring Ankle Mobilization: The Treadle

by Dominika Borovansky Gaines

We need mobility in our joints for good brain mapping, otherwise known as proprioception.  If we have jammed joints it can hinder both mapping and function (read my previous foot blog here).  GYROTONIC® exercise, Restorative Exercise (RE) and Z-Health® each address this need through varied stretches and mobilization exercises.  For foot and ankle mobility, there is applied traction through either hands-on or specific stretches.  I’m always looking for and creating modifications to replace hands-on work that allow clients to perform these exercises on their own, or as an alternative when the stretch positions are too difficult to achieve.

It’s been my experience that RE Top of the Foot stretch and Z-Health Toe Pulls can both be difficult for clients with limited range of motion in plantar flexion. Z-Health Medial Ankle Tilts (Side-Kick in GYROTONIC® method) can also be a challenge for those with limited hip mobility and knee issues.  But without a doubt these movements are critical for continued proprioception during gait and movement agility as we age.

I recently began experimenting with using a half roller flat side up as a tool for assisting talonavicular and talocalcaneal mobility.  Since many of our clients have this tool for calf stretching, I thought it might be useful.  It turns out that using the half roller facilitates movement beautifully.  There is not as much stress on the foot as In the Top of the Foot Stretch and it allows for easy gliding for medial and lateral ankle tilts without hip and knee strain.

For opening the tarsal sinus at the talonavicular joint, align the two ankle bones with the back edge of the half roller.  Depending on foot size, the toes may reach beyond the front edge; what is important is being able to make contact through the first metatarsophalangeal joint.  Rock the foot forward and back (like on a treadle — remember those?).  Begin with small, easy movements.  As you rock the foot back, allow the heel to drop back and down.  Then, keeping the heel heavy, reach forward through the big toe to rock forward. Next, make the big toe heavy and release the ankle back and down as you rock back.  Repeat several times. Stand and walk to sense the difference between both sides and how this affects your gait. 

For medial and lateral glides, align the foot in the center of the roller placed longitudinally.  Gently rock the foot side to side allowing the ankle to stretch to the outside and inside.  Keep the knee centered.  As you rock to the outside, lengthen through the 5th toe; on the inside, lengthen through the big toe. Observe the twisting of the lower leg.  Tibial rotation is necessary as part of the gait pattern and you might think about your calf wrapping to the midline on the medial glide and then feel the fibula rotate laterally as you rock to the outside. Watch for the tendency to lift the toes while rocking and instead try to keep them relaxed.  As before, rock back and forth several times and then stand, try a knee bend, take a walk.

Click below to watch a video of me teaching this exercise

GYROTONIC®, GYROKINESIS® and the GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM® are registered trademarks of the Gyrotonic Sales Corp. and used with permission.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Ankle Mobilization: The Treadle

  1. Nice! I have a client with peripheral neuropathy primarily in her right leg. She has nearly zero dorsiflexion and has to wear very restricting braces on both legs when walking. Using the half roller like this, she’ll be able to semi-passively move through both dorsi and plantar flexion. Maybe that bit of mobility will give some increase in her proprioception.

    1. Hi, Mike, Thanks for sharing your positive experience with this mobility exercise. I am so pleased it was useful for your client.

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