Maintaining Healthy Feet & Ankles
The health of our feet should be a top priority from a fitness standpoint. The foot is broken into three parts: the forefoot, midfoot, and rearfoot. It consists of multiple joints as well as muscles, ligaments, fat pads and bursas. Our feet are the first shock absorbers when we walk, run or jump. The transfer of force through the rest of the body starts at the feet. Indeed, they are the most overused yet one of the most misunderstood parts of our bodies. Unfortunately many times it takes an injury before we give them the respect they deserve.
Having a practitioner observe your gait along with some good manual therapy can go a long way towards providing answers if you’re having foot and ankle issues. If any joint in the foot and ankle is not operating as it should, the load is transferred elsewhere and the foot must compensate. These compensatory patterns negatively affect all the joints above the ankle including the knee, hip and even the lumbar spine.
- Proper Running Form
If someone doesn’t know how to run correctly, he/she should reconsider putting in a lot of mileage. However, think of all the aerobic-based events and races that have emerged in the last 20 years. Other than advanced runners working on qualifying times, anyone is welcome to participate in 5K, 10K, half/full marathons and even Ironman races. Are many of these individuals taking a close look at their gait and technique prior to registering? I highly doubt it. It’s no coincidence that the industry of physical therapy began to explode at the same time adults started running in recreational races more often. Chronic IT band, calf, glute and hip issues created the demand. Endurance athletes played a large role in the physical therapy boom. If you are new to racing, do yourself a favor and have a qualified coach look at your gait prior to the start of training.
- Strengthen the Feet and Ankles
This includes muscles and proprioception. If you’ve had foot or ankle injuries, it’s smart to have ankle stability exercises in your warm-ups. Other recommendations include:
- Run or walk on soft sand once per week. This will activate all the intrinsic foot musculatures.
- Balance on a couch cushion or Airex Pad on one leg for 60 seconds.
- Ankle hops in warm-ups and during the actual workout. Now you can take advantage of plantarflexion (pointing the foot) and dorsiflexion (pulling the toes towards the shin) movements. This is why we include ladder work, jumping rope and tabata exercises with all our private and small-group clients.
- Mobilize the Ankles
The feet need to be strong and flexible. By mobilizing the ankle joint, it will help take unneeded stress off the calf, achilles and foot while generating force during workouts. One of my favorites to include during our warm-ups is Wall Ankle Mobilization. We perform this with all our private and semi-private clients. Please come see me if you would like assistance on how to do the exercise correctly. It’s a great one to perform daily based on how much we’re all on our feet.