Fitness Friday: Activate your ankles

January 17, 2014

As golf-shoe designs have improved in recent years--now providing more stability for your stance and swing--the importance of having good ankle mobility has almost gone away. That might sound like a good thing, but a lack of ankle mobility can lead to leg injuries, especially in the knees and feet. "A shoe with good heel height and support would help golfers with poor ankle mobility--like a lack of dorsiflexion--stay in their posture and make a better swing," says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear. "But it's putting more stress on the tendons and ligaments of the feet and knees because the ankle isn't absorbing its share of the load."

A common problem is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of the feet. But if you feel a dull, achy pain below your kneecap, particularly when you sit, you might have patellar tendinitis, says Dr. Vernon Cooley, who performed Tiger Woods' knee surgery after he limped to victory at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Golfers who walk the majority of their rounds, particularly on hilly courses, also are at risk for this type of tendinitis. The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the tibia (shin bone) and can become inflamed or torn when placed under severe stress.

"It's typically an overuse injury," Cooley says. "The tendon is taking on more stress than it can handle. Certainly if your ankles aren't functioning properly, you're a prime candidate to feel this type of knee pain." The usual prescription of rest, ice, stretching and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, can accelerate recovery. But in the long run, you might want to consider golf shoes that allow the ankles more freedom of movement. Consult with a podiatrist or orthopedic doctor. In addition, try to improve your ankles' range of motion before you play.

"Have you ever seen Miguel Angel Jimenez go through his pre-round warm-up?" Shear says. "The way he gets into a squat position and moves in circular motions with his hips? He might not know why he's doing what he's doing, but he's mobilizing his ankles." [Editor's note: The 20-time European Tour winner says he's aware of the particulars and benefits of his stretching.]

Click on the video below to watch Ben demonstrate exercises to improve your ankle mobility.