The inner mechanics of the feet are incredibly complicated and it’s an area in the world of biomechanics and movement that is still very much up for debate on how the bones and joints really work in movement (walking, squatting ect…). Taking into consideration that there are twice as many feet in the world than people… There’s definitely going to be a variety in terms of the intrinsic biomechanics of the feet. There is no one size fits all paradigm here! Despite there being no clear cut answer or black and white statements that hold true for all feet, there is one thing I’m sure all health and fitness professionals can agree with…
A ‘healthy’ and ‘functional’ foot should be adaptable to it’s ever changing environment!
What does this statement mean? Well it means that a foot should be able to be flexible and mobile when the environment demands it to be flexible and mobile, and it should be rigid and strong when the environment demands the foot to be rigid and strong. The genius design that is the foot is that within milliseconds your feet can go from a mobile system to a rigid system. This is incredibly important every time you take a step. Keeping your foot in one of these worlds too long (pun intended!), when the environment changes will most likely cause issues for the feet but also problems higher up the integrated system that is the human body.
So to have adaptable and happy feet, we have to exercise the feet in an adaptable manner. Dead simple right? Well yes and no. Yes, to have healthy feet (like any other part of the body), you need to exercise them weekly! The less simple aspect to how the body is so brilliantly designed is that one area of the body can effect another. If there is an issue in one area of the body it can effect the function of another part of the body, there is a functional connection. There are many areas that can directly influence the mechanics of the feet but I’m going to focus on the hamstrings (specifically the biceps femoris) in this blog as it’s been a recurrent connection with some clients I’ve been working with recently.
Foot Issues? Look At Your Leg!
The biceps femoris (your most lateral hamstring) originates from the tuberosity of the ischium at your pelvis (sit bone), attaches onto the femur (short head) and to the head of the fibula (long head). The fibula is the long narrow bone that lives next to the tibia (shin bone).
The interesting thing about the fibula is the distal end of the fibula (bottom end) forms part of the ankle joint. The ‘bony bit’ you can feel on the outside of your ankle is the fibula! The fibula plays a role in the stability and movement of the ankle and foot. Like the sacrum, the movements of the fibula are very small but very important to the function of the foot and lower leg. For example it is thought that when you dorsiflex your foot (the opposite of pointing your foot), the fibula moves up a little bit towards the knee.
So bearing in mind the attachments of the biceps femoris, if there are any issues at the muscle, let’s say for example a muscle spasm or strain (two very common issues of the biceps femoris), the movements of the fibula may be compromised which will in turn negatively effect the mechanics of the ankle and foot. This could limit movement at the foot or even give way to excessive movement at the foot. As we know the foot has MANY functions and so any ‘weaknesses’ in this system can be a mess. So let’s assume the hamstrings are in spasm (which is a common condition for many people’s hamstrings), we need to re-hydrate the muscle and improve the neuromuscular feedback of the muscle (brain to muscle communication) so the muscle has the capacity to fully contract (both concentrically and eccentrically).
Improving the function of the hamstrings can have a fantastic influence on the function of the feet, improving the mobility and strength of the feet but more importantly, improving the foot’s ability to absorb and redirect forces from the ground (ground reaction force). A lot of injuries come about when the body isn’t absorbing force properly so this is an important function of the feet.
How Can I Improve My Hamstrings If They’re In Spasm?
Most people experience ‘tight’ hamstrings so a good area to start is with massaging and stretching the hamstrings. You can increase the hydration and state of the muscle fibres by using a massage ball or by seeing your local sports massage therapist. From there you want to exercise and train your hamstrings. Exercises like bridges in pilates (normal bridges / single leg bridges) and the Nordic Hamstring Curls are fantastic ways to strengthen the hamstrings concentrically and eccentrically. Putting an emphasis on working the hamstrings in a eccentric (lengthening) manner is a good idea. This is because the hamstrings are working their hardest when eccentrically contracting (lenghtening) to decelerate the motion of the leading leg (during the swing phase) when walking and running,
something your hamstrings have to do everyday!
What If I Have A Hamstring Strain?
For a period of time you want to rest your hamstrings to allow the healing process to develop new collagen at the site of injury. The period of rest will be determined by the severity of the strain (if you have strained your hamstrings you should be consulting your physical therapist to aid in the healing process). When ready of course you need to strengthen the hamstrings to prevent future re-injury. New tissue is never quite as strong at the original product so strength work is incredibly important during rehabilitation. To reverse the discussion, you would now want to take into consideration your foot biomechanics and how it may have contributed to the hamstring being injured in the first place. Perhaps your feet need mobility work or strength work.
So Should I Forget About Exercising My Feet?
Of course not! Doing strength work and mobility work for your feet is fantastic for your feet so they can confidently carry you through life. What I’m proposing here is if you have a problem in your body, of course you want to improve how you use that part of your body, but also be aware and appreciative that the body is one organism! And that everything within that organism is communicating and influencing each other constantly. The hamstrings is a more clear and obvious connection which will make it easier for you to go away and play with….
Train your feet and your hamstrings in a complimentary way that supports the whole system.
Assessing and working on the mechanics of the pelvis and spine will of course be another layer to add to this discussion. I’ve written another blog Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings! that describes the continuation of the biceps femoris into the sacrotubrous ligament (ligament at the back of your pelvis) and how your back or shoulders can influence your leg and foot mecahnics.
As always thank you for checking out this blog guys and I’ll talk to you next week 🙂
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