“Happy Feet” The Importance of Foot Mechanics

Your feet are the foundation of every stride you take. Nowhere is the miracle of the foot more clear than watching the human body in locomotion. It is something to be marveled. The combination of 26 bones, 33 joints, 112 ligaments, and a network of tendons, nerves, our fascia matrix and blood vessels all work together to establish the graceful synergy that allows us to get from A to B. The balance, support, and propulsion of our body all depend on the foot. But before entering a fitness regimen that includes jogging, don’t forget to make certain your body’s connection with the ground is in proper working order.

So why is it that so few runners give their feet proper care? We stretch our hamstrings, tighten our stomachs and carbo-load our muscles, but barely pay any attention at all to our feet.

Which is especially misguided when you consider that, after the knee, the foot is the most frequently injured body part.

foot 1

How’s Your Gait?

Many health professionals now use gait analysis as a critical part of their assessment and screening protocol. A comprehensive analysis will look at the foot mechanics in several focuses: a non-weight bearing state, standing, walking, running at pace (i.e. endurance vs. sprint) and after fatigue. A well rounded analysis will also take into consideration more than the foot — you must look at the knee, pelvis and low back, and what’s most forgotten, the reciprocal relationship of the arm mechanics in static posture, and in swing.

Biomechanics in a non-weight bearing foot boils down to the functionality of the multiple joints of the foot and how they interact, particularly in a dynamic state. Is your foot rigid, flexible, flat or high-arched? Does your big toe have the motion it needs for push-off? Is the main ankle joint (talocrural joint) moving correctly? What changes when the foot bears weight in standing, walking or running? What happens if we load the structure, how does balance and coordination shift?

When running, foot strike location in relation to the body position is a major factor in efficiency and effectiveness. If foot contact with the ground is made in front of the line of the body, regardless of where on the foot the contact happens, the foot will act as a break in motion. Ideal foot contact should be under the body to allow forward momentum to continue unimpeded.

What does this mean for the average runner? Think more about where your foot is landing and less about which part of your foot lands first.

The Big Toe “This Little Piggy Went to Market”

The toes (especially the great toe) play a vital role in normal arch functioning, both in the shock absorption and propulsion phases. In normal stride cycle the toes are flexed up on landing so the foot lands with the arch high like a shock absorber at full extension. Then the toes lower and the arch flattens dissipating shock in a controlled manner. As stride moves forward the heel lifts up, flexing the toes up, and lifting the arch-turning it into a rigid lever for an energy efficient push-off. this “Windlass Mechanism” requires free movement of the toes and plantar fascia ligament for proper shock absorption and propulsion.

The great toe being able to stabilize the arch in midstance and takeoff is critical for a funcional gait and normal arch functioning. Remember an arch is supported by its ends- this is the front end and a heel flat and balanced with the forefoot is the other end. When medical patients lose their great toe due to injury or infection they are left with a foot that is very unstable, with no ability to absorb shock, and with limited to no propulsive properties. Not surprisingly, many of these patients often end up with severe disabilities and higher amputations as they traumatize other foot structures.

The big toe must be properly aligned and the flexor hallucis longus and brevis allowed to perform normal stabilizing functions.

foot 2

You Gotta Have the Right “Sole”
Proper shoe selection is vital to foot health–not merely the shoe brand and model, but the fit. “Bad shoe fit can cause a multitude of problems for your feet, everything from numbness and burning to blisters and painful calluses. Shoes that are too short can cause black toenails. Shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot can cause pinched-nerve pain, bunions, corns or calluses. Shoes that are too wide allow the foot to slide around, which causes undue friction, which in turn can lead to blisters. And so on. Just like Goldilocks and the 3 bears, you have to try a few on before making a decision. Most shoe stores these days have experts in this field, so seek out a pedorthist and ask for guidance.

Once you purchase shoes with the right fit, you then need to maintain them and replace them when they’re worn out. The average life of most running shoes is 350-500 miles, but if you’re a heavier or taller runner, or if your gait isn’t smooth, you may need new shoes sooner.

Think Patterns of Running, Not Parts

Efficiency is affected by hip stability and mobility, trunk stability and thoracic mobility, shoulder mobility and head posture.

Runners with a mid-foot strike will translate much of that energy into up and down motion – rather than forward motion — will be less efficient than a heel striker who sends all the energy forward.

Things to think about when taking the piggies out to the market.


Next week we will address the corrective strategies for addressing re stabilization for the foot and mobilization of the lower limb mechanics.


About the Author: Sarah Jamieson

Sarah Jamieson has written 155 posts on this site.

Sarah is the owner and head movement coach at Moveolution; a Vancouver based consulting company focused on the integration of movement and recovery science. Bridging the gaps between the clinical and performance fields Sarah’s passion stems from lifelong passion of Yoga, Jujitsu, and Qi Gong; which she integrates into her coaching practice. She is a full time social change maker, a ‘run-a-muker’ of everything outdoors and repeatedly engages in random acts of compassion.

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