Many athletes who have participated in sports
have learned firsthand how one minor problem can be magnified
over time and eventually have major consequences. Typically
this happens when a blister affects the gait or foot pain
from a heel spur or plantar fasciitis throws off balance
and stance, or stressed or weakened muscles cause an imbalance
in the body's mechanics.
AND THE FEET
is the study of the mechanics of a living body, especially
of the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal
structure. The foot, which includes everything below the
ankle, is a complicated but amazing engineering marvel.
With an intricate biomechanical composition of 26 bones
each, together they account for almost one-quarter the total
number of bones in the entire body. There are 33 joints
to make the feet flexible. About 20 muscles manage control
of the foot's movements. Tendons stretch like rubber bands
between the bones and muscles so that when a muscle contracts,
the tendon pulls the bone. Each foot contains more than
100 ligaments that connect bone to bone and cartilage to
bone and hold the whole structure together. Nerve endings
make the feet sensitive. With each step you walk or run,
your feet are subjected to a force of two to three times
your body weight, which makes the feet prone to injury.
big toe, commonly called the great toe, helps to maintain
balance while the little toes function like a springboard.
The three inner metatarsal bones provide rigid support while
the two outer metatarsal bones, one on each side of the
foot, move to adapt to uneven surfaces.
transverse arch and the longitudinal arches support each
foot. The transverse arch runs from side-to-side just back
from the ball of the foot and is the major weight-bearing
arch of the foot. The medial longitudinal arch runs the
length of the instep, giving spring to the gait, flattening
while standing or running and shortening when you sit or
lie down. The lateral longitudinal arch runs on the outside
of the foot. Both longitudinal arches function in absorbing
shock loads and balancing the body. These three arches of
the foot are referred to singularly as the foot's arch.
body lines up over the foot and when the foot goes out of
alignment, the ankle, knee, pelvis, and back may all follow.
Analyzing the way we stand, walk, and run helps a podiatrist
or orthopedist determine whether we have a mechanical misalignment
and how it can be corrected. If you have nagging problems
one of these specialists could help by evaluating your walking
and running gait.
example of biomechanics is how the foot's arch works. A
low arch, or flat foot, typically occurs when the foot is
excessively pronated, turning it inward. A high arch supinates
the foot, rolling it outward. Both of these structural variations
can cause knee, hip, and back pain. When one arch flattens
more than the other arch, that inner ankle moves closer
to the ground. That hip then rotates downward and backward
causing a shortening of that leg during walking and running.
The pelvis and back both tilt lower on the shortened leg
side and the back bends sideways. The opposite leg, which
is now longer, is moved outward towards the side that puts
added stress on its ankle, knee, and hip. The shoulder on
that side then drops towards the dropped hip. All of these
are compensations as the body adapts. Muscles, tendons,
ligaments and joints are stretched to their limit. The body
is out of alignment. This can also happen from other body
system failures. The shoulders, arms, back, abs, quads and
glutes all play a major role in alignment and support. Remember
how your gait changes when your quads lock up or your back
stresses on our bodies can result in inflammation, often
the cause of foot pain. Walking or running on unbalanced
and uneven feet can result in fatigue. Fatigue gives way
to spasms that may cause a shift in the shape of our feet.
Corns, calluses, bunions, spurs, and neuromas may develop
when joints are out of alignment. So, what does all this
mean as we train and race?
Well, maybe not everything but close to it! As long as you
have good form, whether running, hiking, paddling, or biking,
you stand a better than average chance of not injuring yourself
due to a biomechanical problem. But let foot pain or muscle
imbalances cause you lean to the side, or weak abs cause
you lean forward, or tired arms cause you to drop your shoulders,
or spent quads cramp up, and your body is tossed out of
alignment. This will ultimately work its way down to your
feet and as they will have to work harder to give the support
your body craves. It will become a viscous circle affecting
The best bet to keep yourself healthy is to train wisely,
whatever the discipline. Make sure your shoes are not worn
down-replace them before they lose their support and cushion.
Wear good insoles to balance the foot and provide good heel
and arch support and alignment. Strengthen the ankles and
knees with specific exercises. Do upper body exercises to
strength your abs, back and shoulders. Work your arms so
they can help maintain balance and proper form. Learn how
to tape a sprained ankle or turned knee. Condition yourself
in incremental stages, without huge jumps in mileage or
extremes. Train with the gear you will use in an actual
race or event-to condition the body and muscles. When hiking
use hiking poles for support and to help the knees. Learn
your body's weak links and find exercises to strengthen
those muscles and joints.
one of us, at one time or another, can fall victim to biomechanical
problems as we play our sports for extended periods. Train
smart, and walk and run smart, and you can stay healthy,
starting with your feet.
Vonhof, author of Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and
Treatments for Athletes, Second Edition
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