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Have you ever had a coach talk to you about using your feet and ankles effectively in athletic movement? The feet bear up to four times your body weight during a run and approximately one thousand pounds of pressure during an hour of strenuous activity (1). With that in mind, it’s absolutely vital to all athletes to keep your feet and ankles healthy and functioning well.
Maybe you’ve never thought about it. As a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), it’s been my experience that many athletes suffering from chronic muscle and joint pain are completely unaware of how vitally important foot and ankle position, function and range of motion are to overall body mechanics. Even more, problems in the foot and ankle complex is a source of dysfunction that presents as chronic pain symptoms that can show themselves in areas transferred up the kinetic chain.
Do You Move Your Feet and Ankles Properly?
Did you know that the human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and multiple tendons that hold the structure together and allow it to move in a variety of ways? The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25% of all the bones in your body (1)!
With a quarter of all your bones (25%) located in your feet it’s important to work on balancing out the fascia, muscles and joint position in your feet and ankles so they can regenerate, function and help the muscles that act on and cross the area get stronger and perform optimally. Prevention is worth a ton of cure. Addressing dysfunctions, fascial restrictions and alignment issues in the tissues surrounding the foot and ankle is key to helping an athlete avoid common muscle and joint pains that can stem from imbalances in this primary area.
The foot and ankle complex is an often overlooked and under-addressed area in posture, injury prevention and improving athletic performance. When the foot or ankle joint is out of position, its function is compromised which can cause a myriad of misalignment in the muscles and joints above. In order to perform activities of daily living and athletic pursuits without repetitive stress or pain, an athlete needs strong and flexible feet, ankles and calves to provide both full range of motion and a stable base to move from.
Most athletes are desk bound, spending a majority of their days sitting in footwear that in essence “casts” the feet, ankles and lower limbs in less than optimal positions. The calf muscles alone become chronically shortened, not to mention how your feet and ankles adapt over time to the shape of your footwear. The body is forced to adapt to these shortened and less than optimal positions. Simply putting on athletic shoes and going for a workout does not unravel those changes and is often why the area is overlooked when it comes to chronic pain or injury.
If you have chronic lower back, hip, knee or ankle/foot pain issues like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis or neuromas, then learning how to mobilize and implement a corrective exercise strategy is for you!
5 Feet and Ankle Mobility Exercises
Learn how to do some basic maintenance and repair work on your beautiful self. I find that a simple strategy of mobilization, followed by simple stretches and corrective exercise, works most effectively. A program like this takes on average 20 to 30 minutes and can easily be done before a workout to help your feet and ankles (and the rest of your body) perform their best in the workout to come.
To get you started, here’s a generic set of five simple mobilizations you can do to help undo the damage from faulty form/bad technique and poor/incorrect posture alignment affecting foot and ankle function. As a CES, I would follow up with some specific stretches for your unique posture/function demands and a few corrective exercises to help rebuild and strengthen your feet, which are your foundation.
Addressing your muscle and joint balance and function is important for all human beings, not just CrossFit® or recreational athletes. The footwear and activities you do the most (sitting, working at a computer with your head forward and using a mouse or texting) create and affect your day-to-day posture habits and function. Repetitive stress of these daily postures demands that muscle and joint imbalances be corrected before you take that posture into repetitive strength building movements that require excellent body position and human kinematics.
Treating your foot and ankle complex with a regular mobility routine can help!
To learn more, see The Foot and Ankle Connection to Low Back Pain.
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1. Meet Your Feet. American Podiatric Medical Association.
2. Fun Foot Facts. Illinois Podiatric Medical Association.