Dorsiflexion

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on July 14, 2017Written by Emily Cronkleton on July 14, 2017

What is dorsiflexion?

Dorsiflexion is the backward bending and contracting of your hand or foot. This is the extension of your foot at the ankle and your hand at the wrist. You can also dorsiflex your fingers and toes, though usually the term is referring to your wrist or ankle.

Dorsiflexion occurs in your ankle when you draw your toes back toward your shins. You contract the shinbones and flex the ankle joint when you dorsiflex your foot. You can also dorsiflex your foot by lifting the ball of your foot off the ground while standing, keeping your heel planted into the ground.

Dorsiflexion of the hand or wrist happens when you flex your wrist joint back toward your lower arm. You can do this by extending your arm and hand in front of you on a flat surface. Lift your hand back with your fingers guiding the motion, keeping your arm still. Dorsiflexion also occurs when you bring the palms of your hands together in front of your chest in a prayer pose.

Can certain conditions limit dorsiflexion?

Several conditions can limit ankle dorsiflexion. Tight calves and flat feet can negatively affect dorsiflexion, because these limit your range of motion.

Having an ankle that is impaired in some way can also inhibit dorsiflexion. This can be because your ankle is too tight or has some type of injury. It’s possible for a restricted ankle to be hereditary, but it’s more common to be as the result of an injury. An injury can tighten your ankle and cause scar tissue to form.

Wrist dorsiflexion can be limited by injuries or arthritis. It may also be caused by other diseases and conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, ganglion cysts, or Kienbock’s disease.

Injuries in other parts of your body can also impede dorsiflexion. This is because you may change how you carry or move your body to compensate for pain or restriction in another part of your body.

How is dorsiflexion improved?

A number of techniques can be used to improve dorsiflexion.

To improve dorsiflexion in your ankles

You can do yoga poses such as:

Stretching your calves can also improve your ankle mobility. This will help to loosen up and stretch the larger muscles that affect ankle movement. You can also roll your calf back and forth over a foam roller.

Ankle mobility exercises can also help. Try making circles in both directions with your ankles. Then move them side to side and forward and backward.

To improve dorsiflexion in your toes and feet

Stretch the connective tissue in your foot by rolling your foot over a tennis ball for a few minutes on each side.

You can also work on dorsiflexion in your toes.

Toe stretches

  1. While barefoot, use your hands to pull your toes back toward the top of your foot.
  2. Now stand facing a wall.
  3. Place the toes of one foot against the wall with your foot at an angle.
  4. Slowly shift your weight backward.
  5. Then, bring your heels closer and try to lift your toes a bit higher.
  6. Repeat the stretches on the opposite side.

Leg extension

  1. From a seated position interlace your fingers around the bottom of your foot.
  2. Extend your leg out in front of you.
  3. Use your hands to help draw your toes back toward your shins.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.

To increase dorsiflexion in the wrists

Wrist rotation

  1. Extend your arms in front of you, making fists with your hands.
  2. Rotate your hands in both directions.
  3. Lift your wrists up and down, and then side to side.

If you have enough strength and aren’t experiencing a lot of pain, you can try these wrist exercises using small dumbbells.

Hand raise

  1. Extend your arm across a table with your hand hanging over the edge. You can use a rolled-up towel for support.
  2. Keep your palm facing down.
  3. Move the hand up and back. Go to your own point of sensation.
  4. Lower to the starting position.
  5. Repeat a few times.

Wrist stretch

  1. Lower yourself onto all fours as you would in the Cat-Cow yoga position.
  2. Place your hands underneath your shoulders with your palms flat on the floor.
  3. Gently lean your weight forward. Be mindful of the amount of pressure you’re applying.
  4. After this, you can counter the stretch by placing the backs of your hands on the floor with your fingers facing toward you.
  5. Gently stretch your wrist in the opposite direction.

Arm extension

  1. Interlace your fingers and extend your arms in front of your body.
  2. Press your palms away from your body.
  3. To deepen this stretch, release one hand and use it to gently press the other hand back toward your arm.
  4. After this, do the same stretch to your fingers.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

Palm press

  1. Bring your hands into prayer pose.
  2. Press your palms together and lower your hands down.
  3. Once they are lowered, flip the position of your hands so that your fingers are facing down. Slowly lift your hands back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this a few times.

When to see a doctor

If you feel you’re taking steps on your own to improve dorsiflexion but you’re not seeing results, you may want to enlist the support of a trained professional. Together you can find out what’s causing you to have restricted dorsiflexion. You may have an abnormal movement pattern that’s occurring as the result of a problem in another part of your body.

You can work with a personal trainer or some type of movement therapist. You can also do yoga therapy, massage therapy, or myofascial release.

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