Be one step ahead

When I use the term “bag of bones” it’s understandable that you might think I’m referring to something from a Halloween costume, but I’m not. I’m talking about the complex structure at the bottom of your leg known as your foot. Unfortunately, many people’s feet are no longer functioning the way they should. For a variety of reasons, muscle atrophy and weakness have left them like a bag of bones.

Podiatrist Dr. Roy Mathews of Vancouver’s Performance Posture points out that “the foot and ankle contain 28 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. At least 20 of these muscles act to hold the foot bones in place and create movement throughout the joints of the foot.”

An over-emphasis on extra-supportive footwear and orthotics can lead to foot musculature becoming incapable of supporting body weight during movement, which contributes to endless alignment issues and painful problems. During this phase it is essential to further decrease pain and inflammation, maintain/increase flexibility of injured (and surrounding) tissue, and strengthen the soft tissue connection to the bone. Physiotherapy, with the use of modalities, is very helpful during rehabilitation. Modalities include ultrasound, phonophoresis, contrast baths, transverse friction/deep tissue massage, and augmented soft tissue mobilization.

At-home maintenance of flexibility and range of motion in the foot and ankle (as well as stretching of the posterior muscle group) should be done daily. Strengthening of the fascial/bone interface is achieved through isometric exercises (muscular contraction against resistance, in which the length of the muscle remains the same), followed by isotonic (constant tension during joint motion) exercises, and finishing up with isokinetic exercises (constant speed with variable workload or accommodating resistance to maintain that speed). When the exercises can be performed without pain in the leg, the functional phase can then begin.

Even the elite athletes that I’ve worked with are subject to this condition. One 300-pound professional football player, who is obviously very powerful, saw how his performance and physical health were compromised, in part, because his feet were dysfunctional. His foot musculature was so weak that he was unable to transition the power from his hips and legs to the ground, resulting in changes in his sport-specific technique.

Recently, he’s been using a product known as the AFX, which has been shown to produce impressive results for high-performance athletes.

The AFX (Ankle Foot MaXimizer) is one of my favourite training tools (www. afx-online.com) because it’s the first product that can be used to specifically strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet through movement patterns and ranges of motion that are safe and effective. This allows for rapid progression of strength and function.