When you stop to think about all the work your feet do from day to day, you cannot help but wonder at their amazing strength. If you play sports or do high intensity fitness activities, you should have an even greater appreciation for your foot’s ability to withstand high force loads and produce its own forces.
With so much knowledge of human anatomy in the realm of sports medicine, it may seem surprising to learn that the foot is one of the least understood structures in the human body, and feet are only recently getting the attention they deserve from the human movement scientific community.
The foot is a complex structure whose functions are governed by numerous muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and joints that work together to provide balance and stability and produce movement. As such, the human foot has the potential to become weaker or stronger, and sustain and recover from chronic and acute injuries, depending on how it is used.
With that understanding in mind, you might think that rehabilitation of the foot would be approached in the same manner as any other area of the body, using therapeutic exercises, stretches and other treatment measures aimed at restoring or improving strength, range of motion and overall function. Yet interventions for foot-related problems tend to focus on providing external support for the foot through shoes and orthotics, rather than attempting to rehab the foot muscles to function with maximum efficiency.
Central to overall foot function is the arch, or instep. Its ingenious design enables you to walk, run, jump and maintain balance through the recruitment of local stabilizer muscles and global movement muscles. In essence, the arch can be regarded as the “core” of the foot, just as the lumbropelvic region forms the core of the trunk.
Until recently, it was thought that the arch was held in place by passive structures such as bones, joints and ligaments. However, a growing body of research has brought to light the important role played by the intrinsic foot muscles that govern arch function.
The foot’s local stabilizers are the plantar intrinsic muscles that originate and insert on the foot, and the global movers are muscles that originate extrinsically in the lower leg, crossing the ankle joint and inserting on the foot. Both play a role in the foot’s ability to function as designed.
As we begin to understand more fully the important role played by the intrinsic foot muscles, it becomes increasingly clear that therapy geared toward stretching and strengthening those muscles should be an important part of any rehabilitation treatment protocol.
Functional qualities of the intrinsic foot muscles include:
When you consider the important roles played by the intrinsic foot muscles, it seems incomprehensible that they should be ignored during treatment for foot-related problems.
A progression of short foot exercises that emphasize strengthening of the foot arch have been proven effective for realizing important improvements in foot function.
Your feet are designed to walk and run on their own strength, without the support of shoes or orthotic devices. Too much support can actually weaken your intrinsic foot muscles, meaning their function will be sub-par. Any rehab protocol for foot-related problems that ignores muscle strengthening will inevitably fall short of restoring optimal foot function.
The foot and ankle specialists at NYDNRehab are dedicated to finding solutions for foot-related problems that enable patients to achieve optimal function. We understand that your body’s structures do not work independently of one another, and that problems in movement and performance have many moving parts. Do not settle for less than full function of your foot and ankle. Contact NYDNRehab today, and let us treat your foot-related condition and restore your foot function so you can enjoy your busy active life.
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