The Runner’s Foot
In our last post, we focused on the benefits of strengthening a runner’s hips and core to prevent knee injury and maximize performance. Now let’s look at some strategies to strengthen a runner’s foot and ankle and to keep your knees on track in order to improve your runs!
- Improve Ankle Mobility
“Stiff ankles” is a common complaint among runners. And while some runners try to combat this issue with a multitude of calf stretches, often the problem lies in the mechanism of the ankle joint itself. Decreased mobility in the ankle joint leads to poor shock absorption in the foot/ankle, creating abnormal forces transmitted up the rest of the body, into the knees and hips. This is often where “overuse” injuries come into play, as your body tries to compensate for the lack of movement at the ankles at some other joint up the kinetic chain. We often see this after a person has sprained an ankle in the past, healed, but never fully regained the mobility back in their ankle. A physical therapist can help you regain motion at the ankle joint through skilled manual mobilization.
But what about at home?
To help improve the mobility of the ankle joint, you can try this self-mobilization of the talocrural joint. The talocrural joint consists of the articulation between the talus and distal tibia-fibula, and allows you to dorsiflex and plantarflex, both key motions in running. As you run, your talus should glide posteriorly within the joint so the tibia and fibula can come forward as your foot is planted. If it is not gliding properly, it can cause pinching at the front of the ankle and overall decreased motion at the ankle.
- Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilization
- Place a looped band across the front of your ankle, lying just below the malleoli.
- Make sure the other end of the band is anchored to a sturdy object- there should be a lot of tension in the band.
- Keeping your foot planted, lunge forward with your knee until you feel some restriction at the ankle
- Repeat this motion 10 times, for 3 set
- Strengthen Your Foot’s “Core”
Since your foot and ankle receive the impact of the ground as you run, strengthening the muscles in your foot that receive all that force is imperative. Like your body’s core, you have larger extrinsic muscles of the foot that create larger, dynamic movement, and you also have intrinsic muscles located entirely in the foot that act as smaller stabilizers, keeping you balanced and stable. Here are 2 exercises that address both the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot:
- Short foot exercise/foot doming (intrinsic muscles)
- Begin in a seated position with both feet flat on the floor
- Shorten the distance between your toes and heel by lifting up the arch of the foot, as if you are “palming a basketball” with your foot
- Your toes SHOULD NOT curl underneath you for this exercise
- If you need cueing to assist this motion, take 2 fingers and lift up the arch as you go.
- Progress by performing this exercise in a sitting position to standing position, to single leg stance
- Towel scrunches (extrinsic muscles)
- Begin in a seated position with the edge of a hand towel under your feet
- Scrunch the towel towards you by flexing your toes, slightly lifting the towel with your toes
- Grab further along the towel with your toes and repeat 10 times for 3 sets
- For further challenge, add a weight at the end of the towel and repeat exercise
To keep running strong and pain-free, you need to maintain good ankle mobility and foot strength. Don’t neglect this area of your body! Try it at home and let us know what you think.