Exercise of the week: Foot Strength Part 3

Part 1 of this mini blog series on foot strength hinted at the fact that the mechanics that happen at the foot, have an upstream effect. Even when you stand on 2 feet, and shift your own weight to various parts of the foot, you will notice different muscle tensions and activations above the ankles as a result.

Part 2 of this mini blog series reminded you that many of us "cast" our feet either in skates, boots, narrow shoes, tight socks, etc, and that often we find that our clients have weak feet. How do we know they are weak? Because even if we ask them to stand on one leg and balance, the foot will have a tendency to tilter side-to-side, and lack the control to stay grounded and strong. Furthermore, when we ask people to grip the ground, shorten or raise their arch, or activate their toes separately from one another, many will feel cramping in the foot muscles, a sign of lacking activation.

Here is the perfect example of asking someone to activate their toes, and their brain having a hard time:

Consider, that in this video, not being able to connect her brain to her feet is a two-fold problem. The first problem is that the neurons that fire the muscles distally are either fewer in number, or their connections are less strong. Furthermore, when neurons stop activating muscles, the muscles atrophy (shrink). So this becomes a nerve firing issue and later on, a strength issue.

This stuff is important because dynamic exercise and movement, like a simple walking lunge or step up, if people lack the control and strength in the foot and arch needed, their foot will rock between supination and pronation, or more often, they will collapse to a pronated state to find stability and contact with the ground, but it will have upstream effects on the shin, thigh, and hip!

In research by Matias et al (2016), they specifically developed a protocol for evaluating the effects of foot exercise program on injury incidence, foot functionality and biomechanics in long-distance runners. I've attached the additional file of foot exercises they included in their journal article here, which included foot mobility, foot scrunches, balance, and ankle strength exercises:

Foot exercises
DOCX • 771KB

In today's segment, Part 3, let's take a look at one strength and coordination drill that we might prescribe in certain cases, and that you can try yourself at home. In the following 3 weeks, we will release strength drills and descriptions of drills 2-4 listed below.

  1. Foot scrunches with and without towel

What's the point of foot scrunches? Well, firstly, they train some of these muscles depicted below. The specific muscles are:

A) Flexor Digitorus Brevis: this superficial (surface level) muscle flexes the 2nd to the 5th digits of the foot (same action as the foot scrunches). This muscle is important for maintaining an arch without the flexion pattern in the big toe.

B) Quadratus Plantae: this deep muscle also flexes the 2nd to the 5th digits as well as working with flexor digitorum longus to push the toes downward. It is important for strong arch creation, and because it attaches to the anterior aspect of the big calcaneus heel bone, it helps stabilize the ankle.

C) Lumbricals: this deep muscle flexes the metatarsophalangeal joints (MTP). Again, this is important in foot arch creation without flexing the toes. When these little muscles are strong, they will help you create an arch without your MTP joints (toe mounds) coming off the ground.

Being able to scrunch your toes in an arch, but also being able to create an arch without scrunching your toes, could be a distinguished way to create strength in your foot in a well-rounded way.

In the weeks to come, we will look at:

2. Big toe lift offs

3. All-but-big toe lift offs

4. Foot scrunches without big toe

We might even post some bonus content thereafter....

Follow along, and subscribe to our site to get more updates on foot and ankle strength and exercise ideas! Hit "LOGIN" at the top of this page to get notified when new blog posts come out!

Lastly - but not least - Have A Good Rememberance Day. Take a moment to remember how luck we are to live free, and be able to read and write blogs in our spare time! Thank you to those who fought for us.

REFERENCES Alessandra B. Matias, Ulisses T. Taddei, Marcos Duarte, & Isabel C. N. Sacco. (2016). Foot Exercises Document from Additional File 1 (Table s1-s3). BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 17(60).

Hamel, A. J., Donahue, S. W., & Sharkey, N. A. (2001). Contributions of Active and Passive Toe Flexion to Forefoot Loading From the *Center for Locomotion Studies, the **Depart-ment of Mechanical Engineering, the † Department of Ki-nesiology, and the. CLINICAL ORTHOPAEDICS AND RELATED RESEARCH Number (Vol. 393).

Heiderscheit, B. C. (2010). Lower extremity injuries: is it just about hip strength? The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 40(2), 39–41. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2010.0102

Matias, A. B., Taddei, U. T., Duarte, M., & Sacco, I. C. N. (2016). Protocol for evaluating the effects of a therapeutic foot exercise program on injury incidence, foot functionality and biomechanics in long-distance runners: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-016-1016-9

Powell, D. W., Williams, D. S. B., Windsor, B., Butler, R. J., & Zhang, S. (2014). Ankle work and dynamic joint stiffness in high- compared to low-arched athletes during a barefoot running task. Human Movement Science, 34(1), 147–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.humov.2014.01.007

Rodrigues, P., Chang, R., TenBroek, T., Van Emmerik, R., & Hamill, J. (2015). Evaluating the coupling between foot pronation and tibial internal rotation continuously using vector coding. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 31(2), 88–94. https://doi.org/10.1123/JAB.2014-0067

Taddei, U. T., Matias, A. B., Ribeiro, F. I. A., Bus, S. A., & Sacco, I. C. N. (2020). Effects of a foot strengthening program on foot muscle morphology and running mechanics: A proof-of-concept, single-blind randomized controlled trial. Physical Therapy in Sport, 42, 107–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2020.01.007

Images screen shotted from the Anatomy Atlas 2021 app.

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