The ankle-foot complex plays a fundamental role in shock absorption, propulsion and balance when being upright. There are 26 bones that make up the ankle, arch, and toes making it one of the most complex areas of the body. While the bones give the foot structure, there are more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles that move over these joints. Demands such as walking and running make the foot a common site for injury or disturbed mechanics. When we walk we strike the ground 2-3 times our body weight. If we multiple that by the number of steps we take in the day/week/year or even our lifetime all of a sudden that is a lot of force that the feet and body have to go through. According to the College of Podiatry, a person will walk an estimated 200 000km in their lifetime, roughly the equivalent of walking around the world six times. Good foot alignment and ankle strength and mobility are critical for gait, and balance. This is particularly important for a more mature generation who desire independence. An example of this is the ‘basic’ task to pick up their feet to walk without tripping. This requires mobility in the feet and strength in the lower legs, as well as stability in the core.
BASI (Body Arts and Science International) Pilates, with its Principles, the Block System, good queuing and learned foot techniques are an ideal way to maintain fitness, retrain functional movement particularly when injured or when there is mal-alignment in the body. Addressing “the whole” mind and body is always essential. Often lower leg injures take longer to recover as it’s harder to rest when we need our legs for daily tasks, and the blood circulation also takes longer to get to our feet.
Ideal balance in the feet is 50% of our weight from the lateral malleolus forward to the toes and 50% of the weight to be from the lateral malleolus to the heel, as well as 50% of the weight in the right foot and 50% of the weight to be in the left foot. The weight distribution of the feet affects the position of the pelvis, spine and the rest of the body! This is why we need to address the whole body. Imbalanced weight distribution can tell us structural differences such as scoliosis, pelvic rotation, leg discrepancies, asymmetry, hyperextension, knock knees, unilateral issues, back spams and so forth. An imbalance in weight distribution can equally tell us about functional differences such as muscular imbalances, unilateral calf discrepancies and the likes. Our shin muscles stop us from falling forward and our calf muscles stop us from falling backwards. If one of these groups of muscles is more dominant in strength or flexibility it can affect our ideal neutral in our body (the plumb line). It is for this reason that closed chain exercises are better than open-chain when focusing on foot alignment as it encourages co-contraction of the muscles which gives joints the stability work. However, sufficient proximal stabilisation (hip/core work) is equally as important. The subtalar joint is in charge of supination and pronation of the foot which is another reason for misalignment issues such as ankle sprains, knees issues, and Plantasia.
A person’s body can tell us a lot if we know what we are looking for. The ankle-foot complex is like a web of muscles that need to work harmoniously. Stretching dynamically and statically and strengthening the feet allows for greater mobility, joint freedom and specific articulation. A simple proprioceptive exercise to create awareness is to stand and close your eyes. Feel where your weight is on your feet and then to rock forward and backwards and then from right to left, and then circles in one direction and reserve. In BASI Pilates our first focused Block System is Footwork. This can be done on equipment or simply on a mat. This awareness can often recenter our weight and balance, so long as a good awareness of weight distribution is considered (otherwise perpetuated negative movement patterns will be reinforced). It is also recommended to not only focus on the foot alignment up when working on gait but also a neutral pelvis (and spine) up and down.
When you think of how the foot is so intricate in its multi-directional movement and stability it is no wonder we focus on good foot alignment in Pilates. This is all done while finding the balance within the body and addressing the whole body, mind and spirit.