by THERESA LARSON, DPT, Marine Corps Veteran, CrossFit Coach
At Movement Rx, the majority of our clients are tactical, adaptive, CrossFit, and higher level athletes. Some of our patients’ normal days are to walk 10-15 miles, run miles in the sand, or carry awkward objects and bodies. But it doesn’t take these crazy lifestyles to wear your feet down. Whether you’re a mother of three, a gym owner, an adaptive athlete, an office worker, or a Navy SEAL, your feet are a huge deal. In my parlance, keeping your feet healthy means having good foot mobility. Specifically you want the capsule, sliding surfaces of the muscle, connective tissue, nerves, arteries, and veins as mobile as possible.
How Do You Know if You Have Good Foot Mobility or Not?
Important note: If you are having nervy symptoms in your feet, such as numbness and tingling, it may or may not be coming from your spine, so that is something you would want to get checked out if it remains after trying the tests below.
Five Easy Tests
1. Test your squat! Can you squat — feet forward — butt to feet without having your feet turn out?
- This shows you which side might be more limited. It’s not uncommon for one foot to turn out the lower you go in the squat.
2. Can you sit at the bottom of a pistol with your foot forward and hang out for at least 30 seconds without falling over?
- This indicates whether you have full ankle range of motion on a single leg
3. How quickly does blood flow back into the toes when you pinch them?
- This is a quick test for capillary refill of your feet to show the rate at which blood refills empty capillaries. To measure, place your foot above your heart — which prevents venous reflux — and press the soft pad of the toe until it turns white. What is important is the time it takes for the color to return. If it takes longer than 3 seconds to refill with color, it may be an indication you are dehydrated, so drink some water, give it 10-15 minutes, and retest. If it still takes longer than 2-3 seconds, then see your primary care physician.
4. Can you jump rope for a minute without any discomfort in your feet, knees or hips?
- This stresses the dynamic nature of your feet and the elastic ability of your connective tissue – such as collagen, muscles, and tendons – that work together around your leg and foot.
5. If you perform the fight club stance (dome your feet or lift your arches to let feet flatten), does one move more than the other?
- This tests whether you get full pronation and full supination.
Reduced Range of Motion Means Poor Performance (and Potential for Injury)
Neuromuscularly, you have nerve endings in your joints and soft tissue that relay all information about the muscles, bones, and ligaments to the central nervous system (your spinal cord). These are called proprioceptors or mechanoreceptors, and your feet and ankles are full of them. Proprioception is your body’s ability to understand your own position and movement.
What Steps Should You Take for Better Feet?
Step 1: Go after your foot’s joints first, hours before your workout, and/or often during the day. There are 33 joints in the foot, so you do not have to tackle them all at once. Just go after positioning following KStarr’s lead.
Step 2: Go after the soft tissue that impacts the foot. You want to do this after your WOD/exercise or after a hot shower or soak in the hot tub. Here are some examples:
Step 3: Perform proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) techniques throughout the day.
It takes time for tissues to change, folks. Most people will see immediate short-term improvements with the above, but don’t expect that your immobile tissue will change quickly if you sit at a desk every day or have moved with poor form for a long time. On the other hand, the more you get out and work on yourself, your positioning, your form, the better.
So enjoy running, walking, and lifting and remember: take care of your immobilities before they become the chronic pains in your heel, foot, shin, and knee.