Do you have dorsal (top) foot pain? Think you are tying your shoes too tightly?

Do you have dorsal (top) foot pain, at the peak of the arch? Think you are tying your shoes too tightly and that is the cause? Do you have pain over the dorsal or plantar mid foot on heel rise or jumping/landing or going up stairs ?

Just because you raise your heel and load the ball of the foot does not necessarily mean you have adequately plantarflexed the 1st metatarsal and loaded it soundly/stable with the medial tarsal bone. Heel rise, and thus loading onto the medial foot tripod, must be met with ample, stable, durable, 1st metatarsal plantarflexion and the associated medial tarsal bones. Also, without this, loading of the sesamoids properly cannot occur, and pain may ensue.

The first ray complex can be delicate in people who are symptomatic. In some people who do not have a good tibialis posterior-peroneus sling mechanism working harmoniously, in conjunction with a competent arch tripod complex to achieve a compentent arch complex (ie, EDL, EHL, tib anterior and some of the other foot intrinsics) this tarsometatarsal interval can become painful and instead of the 1st ray complex being stable and plantarflexing as the heel departs and the 1st ray begins taking load, it may not do so in a stable plantarflexed posturing. In some people it can momentarily dorsiflex as the arch subtly collapses (when it should be stable and supinated in heel rise).

"Subtle hypermobility of the first tarsometatarsal joint can occur concomitantly with other pathologies and may be difficult to diagnose. Peroneus Longus muscle might influence stability of this joint. Collapse of the medial longitudinal arch is common in flatfoot deformity and the muscle might also play a role in correcting Meary's angle."-Duallert et al

Soon, I hope to show you a video of how to watch for this problem, how to train it properly, how we do it in my office.
Dr. Allen

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27015031

Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2016 May;34:7-11. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2016.03.001. Epub 2016 Mar 10.

The influence of the Peroneus Longus muscle on the foot under axial loading: A CT evaluated dynamic cadaveric model study.

Dullaert K1, Hagen J2, Klos K3, Gueorguiev B4, Lenz M5, Richards RG6, Simons P7.

tumblr_o2duniYZow1qhko2so1_r1_1280.png
tumblr_o2duniYZow1qhko2so3_r1_540.png

Is the “Short Foot” exercise dead ? Dr. Allen thinks it is at the very least, floundering on wobbly premises.

- another blog article by Dr. Shawn Allen

Stand and raise your toes. Where does your arch go ? It should elevate, the arch should increase in height/width/volume thanks to several biomechanical principles, the Windlass mechanism to name one.

Many therapeutic approaches to foot posture correction at some point implement the “Short foot” exercise. In some respects, perhaps many, I think that model may be poorly grounded fundamentally and functionally. My protocols and approach are to restore as functional a foot as possible, during both static and dynamic stance phases of gait, and that means restoring rear and forefoot alignment on a neutral strong competent arch. To be clear, an arch does not need to be high, at whatever its’ height, it just needs to be competent. It is quite possible that I have not truly used the “short foot” exercise in over 10 years in correcting my client’s biomechanics, not in its’ traditionally taught methodology (ie, I have never taught the exercise with the toes flush on the ground, that a mistake in my opinion). I see some limitations in it, and some flaws. These are purely experiential on my part, yet grounded in my successes and failures with many hundreds of clients. This however does not mean I am always right, but i go with what works in my clients. 

When I ask a client to stand up and raise their toes (this is truly how a “short foot” is achieved), pointing out that their arch raised as the toes elevated, they often look puzzled. I often put their orthotic under their foot and again ask them to raise the toes again, thus lifting their apparently “fallen” incompetent arch off the orthotic. I then ask the question, so, are we going to continue to use this device to “Fix” your foot ? Are we going to use a hydraulic push approach restore your foot, or are we going to exercise the muscle that are already there to lift (I like to use a crane analogy) the arch and restore the rear and forefoot relationships ?  Clients always answer this question for me, and they do so quickly.  I am quick to reply that this will take time, repetition, obsession, awareness and homework.  This does not mean every case is successful. Some people have attenuated the ligamentous and tendon structures so badly that a deconstructed arch or weight bearing navicular is just too far gone. There are also those folks who have zero body awareness and that is their rate limiting step.  There are many rate limiting steps in attempting to restore function. We just cannot save everyone. 

I am sure you want answers, protocols, “the order” and “the exercises” I use. Ivo and i have outlined some of them on our blog and on our youtube videos. Somewhat purposefully, we have not prescribed an “order” for them to be done, because each person has their own unique problems and their own order and that is were clinical knowledge must come in to play. You just cannot throw exercises at people and see what sticks, too many people do this already.  I also know that many prescribe the “Short Foot” exercise as homework. That is not a problem for some, but it may have limited value if the prescriber does not realize that 

the exercise has a retrograde approach and a prograde approach. 

What I mean is, with this exercise as it is traditionally taught by many (not all), that you are weight bearing first with the toes down, then shortening the rear-forefoot interval by reacting into the ground, and this is exactly opposite from what truly happens in functional prograde weight bearing. In functional weight bearing the arch and foot need to somewhat splay to load adapt, and more importantly, this has to be a skilled eccentric endurance task. This first portion of the arch splay occurs with the toes off of the ground and so forgetting to teach this part while only teaching the “reacting off the ground, flexor muscle driven approach” is flawed. The toes when on the ground utilize the flexor muscles help to resist the latter phase of arch accommodation, but again to be clear, this does not occur in the initial weight bearing phase where eccentrics of the anterior compartment muscles rule the roost. What I am trying to say is that there is never a point in the functional stance phase of the gait cycle where the rearfoot and forefoot are approximating, other than at terminal toe off, it just does not occur.  Hopefully you can see the point of my argument, that this exercise if done improperly (as taught by many) is not functional. 

So is the short foot exercise dead ? Well, to be honest everything has its’ place in this world. Value can sometimes be obtained from the most corrupt of tasks, but there has to be a correlation and transference to the end purpose.  

None the less, this is a pretty prehistoric exercise if you ask me, it needs to be dusted off and updated and retaught correctly, and that is one of my near term missions in the coming weeks. Again, if anything, if there is one morsel of value , the eccentric phase of “letting go” of the short foot posture into a controlled splay is the part of it that has much of any functional relevance.  Teaching your client how to attain a short foot posture, and then to stand and learn to slowly eccentrically release the short foot posture is its main functional value. But, the toes are critical, and a video is key to helping drive this point home, so that is my short term commission. Again, this does not mean there is not value here, so lets not start a social media rant taking my words out of context.  

To summarize, as we are bearing weight down on the foot the arch should be in a controlled pronatory deformation to shock absorb. There is no time to be reacting off the floor into a short foot, that opportunity moment is lost at contact, actually it really never occurs once the ground is met whether one is in initial rearfoot, midfoot or forefoot strike.  The foot has to be prepared at the time of contact with its’ most competent arch, not busy reacting after the fact trying to achieve the competent structure.  The value in the short foot is earning competence in its loading ability and learning to control its adaptive eccentric lengthening, this must be possible in both toe extension and toe flexion (ground contact).  Failure to procure a competent foot will put your client at risk for all of the juicy pathologies we talk about here on The Gait Guys, things like bunions, hammer toes, pes planus, plantar fascitis, tibialis posterior insufficiency and a multitude of various tendonopathies to name just a few.

Need an exciting primer on the types of things a foot should be able to do ? Here are 2 videos. Video link. Video 2 link.

Dr. Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

Attempting to regain a level playing ground for your foot.

“Remember, we were born with both our rearfoot and forefoot designed to engage on the same plane (the flat ground). We were not born with the heel raised higher than the forefoot. And, the foot’s many anatomically congruent joint surfaces, their associated ligaments, the lines of tendon pull and all the large and small joint movements and orchestrations with each other are all predicated on this principle of a rearfoot and forefoot on the same plane. This is how our feet were designed from the start.  This is why I like shoes closer to zero drop, when possible, because I know that we are getting closer to enabling the anatomy as it was designed. This is not always possible, feasible, logical or reasonable depending on the problematic clinical presentation and there is plenty of research to challenge this thinking, yet plenty to support is as well. The question is, can you get back to this point after years of footwear compensating ? Or have your feet just changed too much, new acquired bony and joint changes that have too many miles on the new changes ? Perhaps you have spent your first 20-50 years in shoes with heeled shoes of varying heel-ball offset. Maybe you can get back to flat ground, maybe you cannot, but if you can, how long will it take? Months ? Years ?  It all makes sense to me, but does it make sense for your feet and your body biomechanics after all these years ? Time will tell.” -Dr. Allen

Fundamental foot skills everyone should have, subconsciously. This video shows a skill you must own for good foot mechanics. It needs to be present in standing, walking, squatting, jumping and the like. It is the normal baseline infrastructure that you must have every step, every moment of every day. 

Is your foot arch weak ? Still stuffing orthotics and stability shoes up under that falling infrastructure ? Try rebuilding a simple skill first, one that uses the intrinsic anatomy to  help pull the arch up.  If your foot is still flexible, you can likely re-earn much of the lost skills, such as this one. This is a fundamental first piece of our foot, lower limb and gait restoration program. We start here to be sure this skill is present, then add endurance work on it and then eventually strength and gait progressions. This is where it starts for us gang. 

Shawn and Ivo, the gait guys

tumblr_n4swdbdmHS1qhko2so2_1280.jpg
tumblr_n4swdbdmHS1qhko2so1_1280.jpg

The case of the missing toes.

OK, a bit dramatic but as you can see in the plantar view above, all you can see is the toe pads, the rest of the digit shafts are hidden.  

This is a classic example of a foot imbalance. We have talked about this many times before but the attached video link here  ( http://youtu.be/IIyg7ejYNOg ) shows it very well.  Read on.

There is shortness and increased resting tone in the short toe extensors (EDB, extensor digitorum brevis) and long toe flexors (FDL=flexor dig. longus) with insufficiency in the short flexors and long extensors. This pairing creates a hammer toe effect.  In the video, you can see that these toes are showing early hammering characteristics, but not yet rigid ones. The key word there is, “yet” so this is still a correctable phenomenon at this point.  You can also clearly see the distal migration of the metatarsal fat pad. The fat pad has migrated forward of the MET heads and is being pulled forward by the excess tension in the long toe flexors. As this imbalance in the toe flexors and extensors develops, the forefoot mechanics get impaired and the lumbricals (which anchor off off the FDL) become challenged. Their contributory biomechanics, amongst other things, help to keep the fat pad in place under the metatarsal heads. You can see in this video link above that by proximally migrating (towards the heel) just the fat pad back under the MET heads the resting mechanics of the toes changes, for the better.  

Remember the other functions of the lumbricals ?  their other major functions, namely: thinking from a distal to proximal orientation (a closed chain mode of thinking), they actually plantarflex the metatarsal on the fixed phalynx, assist in dorsiflexion of the ankle, and help to keep the toes from clawing from over recruitment of the flexor digitorum longus.

Here is another blog post we did on a similar presentation.http://thegaitguys.tumblr.com/post/14766494068/a-case-of-plantar-foot-pain-during-gait-this

Proper balance of the toe flexors and extensors, and their harmony with lumbricals and fat pad amongst other things will give healthy long flat toes that can help the proximal biomechanics of the foot.  If you have neuromas, metatarsalgia, hammer toes, claw toes, migrating toes, bunions or hallux valgus amongst many other things, this might be a good place to start.   

There are exercises that can help this presentation, but understanding “the why” is the first step.

Shawn and Ivo

The Gait Guys

The Power of Facilitation: How to supercharge your run.  

 While running intervals this crisp, cool 19 degree morning, something dawned on me. My left knee was hurting from some patellar tracking issues, but only on initial contact and toe off. I generally run with a midfoot strike. I began concentrating on my feet, lifted and spread my toes and voila! my knee pain instantly improved. Very cool, and that is why I am writing this today.  
 Without getting bogged down in the mire of quad/hamstring facilitation patterns, lets look at what happened. 
 I contracted the long extensors of the toes: the extensor digitorum longus and the extensor hallicus longus; the short extensors of my toes: the extensor digitorum brevis, the extensor hallucis brevis: as well as the dorsal interossei.the peroneus longus, brevis and tertius were probably involved as well. 

  Do you note a central theme here? They are all extensors. So what, you say. Hmmm…   

 Lets think about this from a neurological perspective: 
 In the nervous system, we have 2 principles called convergence and divergence. Convergence is when many neurons synapse on one (or a group of fewer) neuron(s). It takes information and “simplifies” it, making information processing easier or more streamlined. Divergence is the opposite, where one(or a few) neurons synapse on a larger group. It takes information and makes it more complicated, or offers it more options. 
 In the spinal cord, motor neurons are arranged in sections or “pools” as we like to call them in the gray matter of the cord. These pools receive afferent information  and perform segmental processing (all the info coming in at that spinal cord segment) before the information travels up to higher centers (like the cerebellum and cortex). One of these pools fires the extensor muscles and another fires the flexor muscles..  
 If someone in the movie theater keeps kicking the back of our seat, after a while, you will say (or do) something to try and get them to stop. You have reached the threshold of your patience. Neurons also have a threshold for firing.  If they don’t reach threshold, they don’t fire; to them it is black and white. Stimuli applied to the neuron either takes them closer to or farther from threshold.  When a stimulus takes them closer to firing, we say they are  “facilitating”  the neuron. If it affects a  “pool”  of neurons, then that neuronal pool is facilitated. If that pool of neurons happens to fire extensor muscles, then that “extensor pool” is facilitated. 
 When I consciously fired my extensor muscles, two things happened: 1. Through divergence, I sent information from my brain (fewer neurons in the cortico spinal pathway) to the motor neuron pools of my extensor muscles (larger groups of motor neurons) facilitating them and bringing them closer to threshold for firing and 2. When my extensor muscles fired, they sent that information (via muscle spindles, golgi tendon organs, joint mechnoreceptors, etc) back to my cerebellum, brain stem and cortex (convergence) to monitor and modulate the response. 
 When I fired my extensor muscles, I facilitated ALL the neuronal pools of ALL the extensors of the foot and lower kinetic chain. This was enough to create balance between my flexors and extensors and normalize my knee mechanics. 

 If you have followed us for any amount of time, you know that it is often  “all about the extensors”  and this post exemplifies that fact. 

  Next time you are running, have a consciousness of your extensors. Think about lifting and spreading our toes, or consciously not clenching them. Attempt to dorsiflex your ankles and engage your glutes. It just may make your knees feel better! 

   The Gait Guys. Facilitating your neuronal pools with each and every post.   

  

  All material copyright 2013 The Gait Guys/ The Homunculus Group. All rights reserved. If you rip off our stuff, we will send Lee after you!

The Power of Facilitation: How to supercharge your run.

While running intervals this crisp, cool 19 degree morning, something dawned on me. My left knee was hurting from some patellar tracking issues, but only on initial contact and toe off. I generally run with a midfoot strike. I began concentrating on my feet, lifted and spread my toes and voila! my knee pain instantly improved. Very cool, and that is why I am writing this today. 

Without getting bogged down in the mire of quad/hamstring facilitation patterns, lets look at what happened.

I contracted the long extensors of the toes: the extensor digitorum longus and the extensor hallicus longus; the short extensors of my toes: the extensor digitorum brevis, the extensor hallucis brevis: as well as the dorsal interossei.the peroneus longus, brevis and tertius were probably involved as well.

Do you note a central theme here? They are all extensors. So what, you say. Hmmm… 

Lets think about this from a neurological perspective:

In the nervous system, we have 2 principles called convergence and divergence. Convergence is when many neurons synapse on one (or a group of fewer) neuron(s). It takes information and “simplifies” it, making information processing easier or more streamlined. Divergence is the opposite, where one(or a few) neurons synapse on a larger group. It takes information and makes it more complicated, or offers it more options.

In the spinal cord, motor neurons are arranged in sections or “pools” as we like to call them in the gray matter of the cord. These pools receive afferent information  and perform segmental processing (all the info coming in at that spinal cord segment) before the information travels up to higher centers (like the cerebellum and cortex). One of these pools fires the extensor muscles and another fires the flexor muscles.. 

If someone in the movie theater keeps kicking the back of our seat, after a while, you will say (or do) something to try and get them to stop. You have reached the threshold of your patience. Neurons also have a threshold for firing.  If they don’t reach threshold, they don’t fire; to them it is black and white. Stimuli applied to the neuron either takes them closer to or farther from threshold.  When a stimulus takes them closer to firing, we say they are “facilitating” the neuron. If it affects a “pool” of neurons, then that neuronal pool is facilitated. If that pool of neurons happens to fire extensor muscles, then that “extensor pool” is facilitated.

When I consciously fired my extensor muscles, two things happened: 1. Through divergence, I sent information from my brain (fewer neurons in the cortico spinal pathway) to the motor neuron pools of my extensor muscles (larger groups of motor neurons) facilitating them and bringing them closer to threshold for firing and 2. When my extensor muscles fired, they sent that information (via muscle spindles, golgi tendon organs, joint mechnoreceptors, etc) back to my cerebellum, brain stem and cortex (convergence) to monitor and modulate the response.

When I fired my extensor muscles, I facilitated ALL the neuronal pools of ALL the extensors of the foot and lower kinetic chain. This was enough to create balance between my flexors and extensors and normalize my knee mechanics.

If you have followed us for any amount of time, you know that it is often “all about the extensors” and this post exemplifies that fact.

 Next time you are running, have a consciousness of your extensors. Think about lifting and spreading our toes, or consciously not clenching them. Attempt to dorsiflex your ankles and engage your glutes. It just may make your knees feel better!

The Gait Guys. Facilitating your neuronal pools with each and every post.

All material copyright 2013 The Gait Guys/ The Homunculus Group. All rights reserved. If you rip off our stuff, we will send Lee after you!

Lebron James and his funky toes. We have the scoop as to what is going on.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1757693-everybody-look-at-lebron-james-toesimage

This is what happens when you get too much short extensor tone and/or strength in the digits of the foot.  Now this is his trailing foot and he has moved into toe off so he should be activating his toe extensors and the tibialis anterior (ie. the anterior compartment) to create clearance for that foot so that he doesn’t catch the toes on the swing through phase of gait.  In this case we do not see alot of ankle dorsiflexion (which we should see at this point) so we are  seeing a compensation of perhaps increased short extensor (of the toes) activity.  

We also see what appears to be a drifting of the big toe (the hallux) underneath the 2nd toe. This often happens when a bunion or hallux valgus is present.  Now we do not see a bunion present here but the viewing angle is not optimal however it does appear that there is a slight drift of the hallux big toe towards the lesser toes . We are not sure if we would qualify this as hallux valgus, and if so it is mild, but none the less we see a slight lateral drift. What is interesting is that despite the obvious activity of the lesser toes short extensor muscle (EDB) we do not see a simultaneous activity of the short extensor of the hallux (EHB, extensor hallucis brevis). Does he need to do our exercise ? See video link here ! 

And so, when the lesser toes are in extension as we see here and the big toe is not moving into extension, and when that is simultaneously combined with even a little hallux valgus tendency, the big toe will drift underneath the lesser toes as we see here, even appearing to push the 2nd toe further into extension.  

As for his little toe, well, Dr. Allen  has one just like it so perhaps he missed his calling in the NBA. Some folks just do not have as plantarward orientation of the 5th toe and so it migrates upward (dorsally) a little. This can be from birth but it can also come from trauma. But in time because the toe is not more plantar oriented, the dorsal muscles (the extensors) become more dominant and the toe just starts to take on this kind of appearance and orientation. It will reduce significantly when the foot is on the ground and the extensors are turned off, but it looks more shocking during the swing phase because of the extensor dominance in that phase.

This kind of presentation if left unchecked can lead to hammer toes, plantar fat pad migration distally exposing the metatarsal heads to more plantar forces without protection and a host of other problems.  Lebron needs to do our Shuffle Walk Exercise to get more ankle rocker (dorsiflexion) and also work to increase his long toe extensors (EDL) and lumbricals.  This will flatten his toes and improve mechanical leverage.  Remember, if you gait better foot function with increased ankle dorsiflexion you will get more hip extension and more glute function.  But does the big fella really need to jump any higher? We are sure he would accept being faster though … .  who wouldn’t ?

Fee for today’s long distance consult: …  Lebron, lets say 10,000$ and we will call it even.  Sound good ?  But a lifetime of prettier, stronger and more functional toes……priceless. Have  your people contact our people.  (Ok, we don’t have people, but we do have an email address here on our blog !).

Shawn and Ivo, The Gait Guys.  Even helping the elite, little by little.

How to properly regain ankle rocker: A Prince of an Exercise

If you have been with us here at The Gait Guys you will know by now that we like to take Fridays and make them a blog post recycle.  This week we have a beauty and it parlays beautifully into our blog posts from the last 2 days on ankle rocker. We did this video about 3 years ago. We can tell because Dr. Allen hasn’t yet shaved his dome and he looks much younger.  Plus he stopped wearing sweater vests !  Ouch !

Today we show a staple in our in-office and home exercise programs. The Shuffle Walk and the Moon Walk.  We have altered these exercises in the last year or so, thus we really need to get that Foot Exercise DVD done that we have been promising for 2 years+.  

Anyhow, STOP passively stretching your calf muscles !!!!!!

Do the Shuffle walk instead.  We have a rule in our offices. If you are going to participate in a running sport, you must do 2 minutes of Shuffle Walks EVERY SINGLE DAY.  

The size of the anterior compartment muscles is much smaller than the bulbous large posterior compartment so the tug of war is always in the favor of the calf to become too dominant.  Drive some SES (Skill, Endurance and Strength) into the anterior compartment and you will see a stronger arch, control pronation better and very likely see shin splints disappear once and for all. 

Watch the video today and learn why some of our teams can be seen Shuffling around the outdoor track. It is pretty amazing to drive by a school and see an entire team shuffling and know that they are doing it because of The Gait Guys. It is comforting that we do not have to see many shin splint cases in our offices anymore because the teams are being proactive. Shin splints are SOOOOO boring and easy to fix.  

Enjoy gang, From the archives……..

Shawn and Ivo

Gait Parameter: Ankle Rocker during the Squat as a predictor for Shin Splints.

Here is a brief video we shot in our clinic. One of the primary assessments we do with all clients is a basic squat. No a “potty squat” were the tibia remains vertical and the hips press backwards, just a basic squat where the knees come forward.  We do this with toes down and toes up.

We shot this video so that we could have some visual to talk about a few things.

1.  Why toes up ?  You have read it here before on our blog.  Raising the toes is done by use of the log and short toe extensor muscles (Extensor digitorum longus and brevis, EDL, EDB and of the hallux extensors EHL, EHB).  When we activate the extensors the toes dorsiflex around the metatarsals and the toes elevate. This activates the windlass mechanism.  This mechanism tightens the plantar fascia thus shortening the distance between the metatarsal heads and the heel. Thus, the arch is  driven up.  This is why we harp on gaining toe extensor strength in flat footed and hyperpronators.  Go ahead, stand up, raise your toes and feel the arch lift. It is a solid biomechanical phenomenon. 

So, why do the squat with the toes up ?

Because when the foot is weaker than it should be a squat can allow the arch to drop too much during the down-squat.  If the arch drops the foot could pronate more than necessary. This can drive subtalar joint motion which can fake out the true squat determination and the true determination of available ankle rocker.  The client will be able to get deeper into the squat but for assessment purposes this will be a fake out.  We want to know  true available functional range at the ankle mortise joint (tibial talar joint). With the toes up, the arch is maximized and cannot drop unless the toes drop. As you will see in this video, you can thus see the true ankle rocker in this client is barely sufficient however it is likely enough (100-110 degrees) for normal gait in the sagittal plane. 

What if when they do this there is little if any rocker, less than this guy?

Then to get more (100-110, ie. 10-20 degrees past vertical) they will have to compensate.  We talk about the strategies in this old video of ours (LINK HERE).  One of the best ways to compensate is to pronate through the arch more than normal.  This will drop the arch height and carry the tibia forward enough to allow for forward motion. Sadly, this increased pronation can do alot of things.  One is to carry the knee medially and this can create patellar tracking issues or IT band tightness, to name just a few. 

So, what is our point today ?

  1. You need to make sure your assessments are telling you what you need them to tell you.
  2. Sufficient toe extensor strength and range is critical in the gait cycle to ensure sufficient ankle rocker occurs at the tibial-talar joint and not somewhere else you do not want it ( a compensation).  Any strength you put into a client who has insufficient true ankle rocker is strength into a compensation pattern.  Can you say heightened eventual injury risk ?
  3. Ability to find the foot tripod is a skill. It needs to be developed in a simple skill like we show here and then  the sensation can be carried forward into gait and running.
  4. A forefoot varus or forefoot valgus (please read our foot type blog posts over the past 3 weeks) can impair the foot tripod and thus the true ankle rocker.
  5. Make sure the knees hinges straight forward in this ankle rocker-squat test. If it is not a forward bend you must consider foot pronation excess, tibial torsion, hip version or torison, or simply the weak foot issues we are talking about here today.
  6. This is a form of homework for our clients, just want you see above in the video. We add layers to this as the gain strength. But that is a topic for another day.

This is a huge predictor and problem in chronic shin splints ? You bet ya it is ! It may be the main missed deficit we see in shin splints (both anterior and posterior shin splints).  There is lots more to this topic, but we will stop here for today. 

Shawn and Ivo…….. you have to know what you are seeing. And as Johnny Nash once said in his song

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day now that i understand ankle rockers better.“

:-)

When the toe extensors become short or tight.

Here is a really great video.

One of us was treating physicians for the Chicago Joffrey Ballet for a time in the early 2000’s. Feet like these were nothing new. For the most part there was amazing flexibility, amazing strength and occasionally some nasty bunions but not as often as one might think. What was clear however was that the majority of the population of feet seen were freakishly strong, amazingly flexible and with skill levels that most of us only dream of.

In this video we can see two things which we just highlighted. Full uninhibited ranges of motion and apparent strength. In order to have full ranges we usually see wonderful strength. When we see a loss of range of motion, frequently but not always, we see weakness of the muscles necessary to drive that range. In other words, if we had the strength we would have the ability to engage the full range because of that strength.

You have heard it here before, that when there is weakness in a muscle around a joint (since all muscles cross a joint) we will see a neuro-protective loss of range due to a neuro-protective tightening (we are using the word TIGHTENING very carefully, note we did not use the word SHORTNESS) of some related muscles in a response to attempt to stabilize the joint. It is not a perfect remedy, but what other strategy do we have ? Sadly, it is usually the strategy of the owner of the broken part to try to stretch that tightened (again, note we did not use the word shortened) muscular interval which then presents the joint again with the afferent detection that the joint is unstable and unprotected. So, more tightness develops and the vicious cycle continues. It is our hope that those that find they need to stretch daily will someday have a light bulb moment and see that they are doing nothing to remedy the vicious cycle. That searching for the weakness that drives the neuro-protective tightness (as opposed to true “Shortness”, which is truly physiologic loss of the length-tension relationship) is where the answer lies to remedy the joint imbalance.

Here this client has generous ranges of motion and highly suspected appropriate strength. The two often go hand in hand unless the client has the phenomenon commonly referred to as “double jointed” which is truly just a collagen abundance in the passive restraints (lets leave this as a merely generalized term for now, it is a topic of another blog post).

What we wanted to talk about here today was the plethora of tightness AND shortness we see daily in the extensors of the toes. How many of your clients have the flexion (toe curl, at all joints) range of the toes that this client has ? Not many correct ? But most have near full extension ranges of the toes correct ? This can only come down to one theory that must be proved or disproved. That being that the toe extensors are either tight because the flexors and plantar intrinsics are weak OR that the toe extensors are short because they have been in this environment of flexor-plantar weakness for so long that the tightness eventually morphed into a more permanent reduced length-tension relationship.

Go ahead, see if you can flex your toes or those of your spouse or clients as far at this dancer can. See if you have full range at the metatarsophalangeal joints like this dancer does. Very likely you will notice a nasty painful tension and stretch across the top (dorsum) of your foot. This is reduced length of the long and/or short toe extensors and likely fascial connective tissue as well. Heck, what else runs across the top of your feet ? Nothing else really. So, what is one to assume ?

Digit extensor tightness is rampant in our society. We have been in shoes and orthotics and stable shoes for so long that our flexors and foot intrinsic muscles have become pathologically weak. As the opposing pull of the flexors and extensors across the end of the foot at the metatarsalphalangeal joints becomes so imbalanced our foot has no other choice but to express this imbalance.

Is this why we see bunions, hammer toes, even gentle flexion of our toes even at rest ?

Yup, the mass population of feet we see are slowly going into a coma. The pattern we see most commonly is even a bit more complex however, it is not quite as simple as tight-short extensors and weak flexors and intrinsics. Looking at the functional neuro-pathology of the hammer toe proves the complexity of our compensations. Here is the most typical pattern (and hence the hammer toes that are taking over the earth):

  • weak long toe extensors
  • strong short toe extensors
  • weak short toe flexors
  • strong long toe flexors

This combination ends up in a functional/flexible hammer toe, and if left alone to fester, a rigid hammer toe in time.

From this combination you should now as the question, “So, when I attempt to put my foot and toes in the flexion positioning of this dancer in the video above what is the tightness i feel across the top of my foot ?”

Answer: functional tightness (and possibly shortness if it has been there long enough, which is likely for most folks) of BOTH the long and short digit extensors (EDB, EDL). Think about it, in the hammer toe position both are short, but for different reasons. The EDB because of the resting extension position at the metatarsal phalangeal joint and the EDL becuase it is wrapped around two distal chronically flexed interphalangeal joints in the presence of an ALREADY extended metatarsophalangeal joint ( which takes up EDL length).

This phenomenon occurs rampantly in the upper limb as well across the elbow, carpals and finger joints. It is a big component of TOS and carpal tunnel and of the multitude of functional problems that the elbow such as medial and lateral epicondylitis.

Why do you care ? After all we are The Gait Guys. Well, because most of us swing our arms during gait and what is pathologic in the upper limb can affect the lower limbs and gait. It is all connected after all, according to the song ……

Chronic disruption of the length-tension relationships of the toe extensors.

It is a bigger problem than you think.

Shawn and Ivo. Discussing the distal sister disease of polio……… affecting just the toes of course. Ever hear of Tolio ? (pronounced……Toe-Lee-oh). Just kidding.

The foot tripod: the importance of the toe extensors in raising the arch.

* this is a two part series……. we have a great follow up video tomorrow that requires this video and blog post first.  So, wrap your head around these simple principles today and then we will apply them to a great runner and their video, tomorrow.

Stand up. Both feet on the floor. Close your eyes and raise your toes up off the floor, just the toes, and then let them fall. Pay great attention to what happens to your arch height as you raise and lower the toes. Yes, do this now. Then come sit down again and watch this video and read some more . Go !

What you should have noted, unless your foot is so flat and weak is that when you raise your toes off the floor (when standing or non-weight bearing actually) is that your arch should raise up. This lifting of the arch will improve your foot tripod ability (anchoring of the heads of the 1st and 5th metatarsal heads, with the heel at the 3rd point of the tripod) and it will shorten the longitudinal arch length. So, do you think that toe extension ability (range, skill, endurance AND STRENGTH) will play a significant part in treating plantar foot pain syndromes (plantar fascitis to name the most obvious and simple nemesis)? You better believe it ! Go ahead, prove us wrong.

In this video the young fella starts out with flat pes planus feet, increased foot progression angles (30 degree splay outwards) and excessive internal limb spin which is helping to drive the flat feet. 

For you clinical nerds, yes he could have external tibial torsion however, what you cannot see is that when we bring his feet back to neutral forward posturing and correct his arches his patella aligned forward and a squat test showed a pristine forward sagittal tracking.  Had it been a case of external tibial torsion, the knees would have been angled inwards and tracked medially, eventually knocking together. Again, this was not the case.

This was just a young boy with feet that had never learned the S.E.S (Skill, Endurance, Strength) of normal foot posture and intrinsic and extrinsic foot neuromuscular use.  Yes, we are once again harping on S.E.S.  It is critical that you get that SES concept down, in prior posts we have discussed the neurological logic to this progression via looking at nerve diameter/conductance. It is factual, not something we made up.

It took all of 1 week for this young man to gain this quick skill correction. On the  first visit we spent 20 minutes teaching him awareness of arch changes with toe extension use (the Windlass mechanism is engaged with Toe Extension) and awareness of the forefoot bipod contact points. We then followed that up with foot progression improvements to get his feel aligned better.  Soften the knee hyperextension that is frequent with pes planus and we were off to the races. Stage two for “Shuffle walks” was set, all he needed was this initial skill set, and you can see that in one week he had it nailed down to under a 1 second !!!!  Rock Star !!!  

He was now at our office to get the homework for the Endurance and Strength components. In this case, an orthotic had been attempted previously by other doctors but he still was not getting the skill set to find the corrected foot posturing on his own. Orthotics pre-position and offer a platform of correction to work off of, but you still have to earn the skill (unless you want to depend on orthotics for your whole life !).

We like the term Orthotic Therapy, meaning (when appropriate) use the device to help the process along when the client cannot find the pattern sufficiently.  It is clear in this case, this boy does not need the orthotic help he just needs the endurance and strength now that we have taught him the skill.  Sure, in basketball camp when he is focused on the ball the feet could use the help of an orthotic, but with the goal to earn his way from them in time. Some people with severe prontation control issues will always need the help. But our goal is to lessen the need and perhaps relegate the need to sports only. On the other hand, some people have such mild over-pronation issues, that this homework is sufficient to allow the orthotics to be tossed in the garbage.  Each case is different.

What is amusing is that in one week this boy practiced so hard and so much (as you can see) that he made me laugh at the end because it was clear he was already laying down the new skill pattern subconsicously, as noted by the fact that he was having troubles collapsing in the new tripod-neutral position.

Fixing flat feet. It is possible, not always , but often. You just have to know what your client has and what to do with it. Anyone can prescribe orthotics, be different, go the extra mile for your athletes and clients.

Start with working toe extensors and increase their awareness of what  happens with the arch when the toes go up and down. Teach them the tripod and then to integrate the two.  People will travel far and wide to find you if you master this stuff. We are honored that people fly in to see us from around the country. And when they see how simple a logical process can be, they wonder why they had to. But they are still happy they did.

Shawn and Ivo……. sometimes described as the fruit out on the far far branches (yes, maybe the ugly gnarly fruit) but we are still hanging tight to the branch none the less.   

Short discussion on the toe extensor muscles

We received a great question from a doctor active on our Facebook page (Thegaitguys PAGE, not our user portfolio, make sure you are on the “PAGE”)
Here was the comment:I do like the crouch gaits to help with proximal muscle activation. However I am still not sold on the long toe extensor activation. It would seem to me that the function of this muscle in close chain (ie gait) would be more to aid in pulling the body over the talus (while keeping the toes fully anchored and wide) as opposed to extending the distal phalanx in an open chain fashion. While open chain exercises may ‘strengthen’ this muscle the neurological processing would seem to be different than closed chain and therefore the transfer to more dynamic exercises would be difficult.? I would think that it would not necessarily change the gait but instead allow for better compensatory strength and durability. Although I still have yet to develop a great exercise for this closed chain control. Any ideas?See More

10 hours ago · LikeUnlike

The Gait Guys when you activate the toe extensors the arch is increased from the windlass mechanism across the metatarsophalangeal joints. Raising the arch will help bring it to neutral since the crouched gait is a pronation challenge. give it a try…..….try the crouch shuffles with toes down and toes up…..you will feel the increased demand on the anterior leg compartment, the greater awareness of the foot tripod esp the first metatarsal head anchor point and the improved ability to control the internal tibial spin (and pronation challenge( that occurs with shuffling with toes down. Remember, closed chain is not any more important that open chain activities……arm swing it gait is open chain but it is necessary…..leg swing is open chain but it is necessary for normal progression and pelvic/core use. also remember……we are a flexor dominant society…..look at how many of your clients toes have either a gentle flexion to them or significant…..the balance of the function across the metatarsophalangeal joint is necessary on balance of extensors and flexors……the shuffle gait with toes up is a huge challenge to the toe extensors……that feeling of the strain on the top of the foot and into the shin is confirmatory. OF course, you are right in what you said……but to get the toes optimally anchored you have to have enough long toe extensor strength to override the long flexor dominance…..otherwise you being hammering the toes and enter into the spiraling vortex of flexor dominance, lumbrical inhibition, short extensor overactivation, proximal fat pad drag etc.