Building a solid foundation is important for any structure. Therefore, maintaining healthy, mobile and strong feet is a foundation that athletes cannot ignore. This becomes particularly important for athletes who require agility—moving laterally, side to side, sprinting, shuffling. The problem is, we rarely focus on our feet, unless they already hurt!
I challenge you to add at least one foot mobilization or exercise into your daily routine. Your tennis game will thank you.
Ankle mobility - The ability of your ankle to dorsiflex fully (toes up) is ideal for proper biomechanics during running and cutting. Without proper length in your Achilles, injuries and tendonitis are more likely. The first step is to check your ankle mobility. The wall test is our favorite.
Place your foot a hand width from a wall (in a lunge position), with the foot in that position drive your knee toward the wall making sure that your heel stays down. Can it touch the wall? Due to the structure of the calf musculature, you may find that you lack mobility more when your knee is straight. Be sure to check out your dorsiflexion side-to-side by using a yoga strap or dog leash. If you seem to be lacking range of motion here, try these two mobility exercises:
Foot mobility and strength - The foot is very complex with 26 bones and 33 joints. It is important that the joints maintain the ability to glide on one another so that our feet can conform to uneven surfaces and absorb shock as we run and jump. Years spent in hard dress shoes, high heels and flip flops can take a toll on our feet. So when we lace up the tennis shoes and play a hard 2 hour match, the feet were not prepared! Simply being able to separate the movements of the big toe from the little toes can improve your foot mobility, strength and control.
My favorite set of exercises is Toe Yoga (video below). Try these out, you might be surprised how tough it is!
The great toe - The big toe (or great toe) may seem trivial to some but is essential for function of the foot. More specifically, the importance of great toe extension. Without mobility here, the natural mechanism of the foot is interrupted. This can lead to pain on the outside of the foot, pain of the other metatarsals (top of the foot) and recurrent plantar fascia pain. If your great toe isn’t so great and is lacking some range of motion, try these out:
As you add these to your daily routine, remember that there is no quick fix but you are taking the right steps! If you have knee or hip or back pain, you still need to start at the foundation. The biomechanics of the foot drives the whole system. Try these out for a few weeks and notice the change. You won’t be disappointed!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jackie, PT, DPT, OCS, CSC
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.