If you're familiar with our Youtube channel, you may know that our most popular video (with almost THREE MILLION views) is our video on how to walk with proper mechanics. This particular video focuses on the posterior muscle groups like the glutes and the hamstrings and emphasizes the propulsion and swinging of the legs.
But recently we were asked by one of our Youtube viewers about the mechanics of the foot, specifically, when walking. When I saw this comment I realized that it's a topic that I have not written about or posted a video about and, there's not a lot of information out there about it.
The mechanics in the foot is essential to proper gait. Although it has a great deal to do with having proper hip mechanics, the footwear we choose and our habits play a big role. The way we strike our feet can set us up for ankle sprains, knee injuries and eventual lower back or pelvic pain.
The foot is how we connect to the ground. It's the reason we have not evolved to have "peg legs". When our feet make contact with the ground, they have to be able to twist and roll in just the right way that allows us to rock forward with the proper surface area of a splayed foot to push off the ground and propel us into a walk or run.
So what are the motions required in an efficient foot?
People have all different kinds of feet based on genetics and how we have used them when stuffing them into tight shoes or high heels.
The key to promoting healthy feet, especially when running, is the splaying of the foot. When the feet splay, it creates more surface area so that we can propel our heel and ankle up over the toes in a rolling action.
Our ankle requires the proper range for good walking. Ideally, your ankle should be at 90 degrees in neutral. When walking, your foot/ankle should be able to achieve 15-40 degrees more of what we call dorsiflexion. This means the ankle to foot angle should get smaller or more acute (between 50 and 75 degrees). In order to do this, we need an elastic calf and Achilles tendon.
There is also a subtle twisting or rotation between the outside and inside ankle bones. In between those two bones at their base is the called the talus. As the heel remains on the ground and as we achieve push-off, the talus slides backward. This plays a role in where we want to strike when our foot hits the floor. Ideally, the mid to front of your heel is where your foot should hit the ground when taking a step. This allows for proper stabilization and talus motion.
When the foot hits the floor, the goal is to get as much surface area as possible and roll the foot forward like a tidal wave as it starts to peel off the floor. The ankle should roll up over the five toes and then leave the floor. If you're having trouble with this motion, there are some exercises below that will help it become more natural.
The mechanics of walking can be very daunting and I remember an entire semester in graduate school was dedicated to just working on understanding all the bits and details. But that's the gist of the foot mechanics that assist healthy hip motion and leg swing.
If you feel like you need some help achieving this motion, these are my FOUR Best Exercises for improving foot mechanics:
Achilles Tendon Mobilization: The lengthening of the Achilles tendon is essential to getting that rocking forward motion. It gets us onto the ball of our feet or forefoot. This is definitely not your typical run-of-the-mill calf stretch!
Cuneiform Exercise: As mentioned above, the splaying of your foot is so important and you may need some assistance in freeing up those small muscles and connective tissues that might be keeping your foot tight.
Metatarsal Break: This is akin to the cuneiform exercise. Now we need to promote an even distribution across your five toes during the rocking motion of walking.
Ankle Alphabets with Ball: After we mobilize the cuneiform and metatarsals, we need to stabilize. This exercise helps to provide more arch support. This exercise will have you hold a small ball firmly with your toes and proceed to spell the alphabet with your foot/ankle. It requires coordination and strength and you will most definitely feel it in your arches!
I hope this information helped you understand the mechanics of the foot during walking and gave you some tools to make your body more efficient.
Remember, we can and we will get better together!
Dr. Justin C. Lin