As a runner, pain just seems to be given. I recovered from a serious illness last year and got right back into my running routine. It felt good after being shut-in for so long, but pain quickly got the better of me. My ankles were stiff and my arches were in pain. Was it my shoes? (always the runner’s first question). I bought new shoes that seemed to help a little bit, but my ankles were still stiff (crackingly stiff, if you know what I mean).
We’re so busy in the running world concentrating on knees, IT bands, and hamstrings. What about our feet and ankles? Let’s start by breaking down the movement of our feet and ankles during the running gait.
Picking the foot up, regardless of the height of your kick, requires plantar flexion. Plantar flexion puts the foot and ankle into a ballet point. The beginning of this flexion propels us to move. Plantar flexion engages gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior, and peroneus. Yes, the beautiful calf muscles are getting quite a task here.
Dorsiflexion is a little less pronounced but gives stability to the foot striking the ground. Dorsiflexion moves the anterior part of the ankle and foot away from the ground. This movement creates some shock absorption and allows us to be ready to take the next step. Tibialis anterior and extensors are helping this motion. These muscles are ‘running’ down the front of the shin down into the toes.
The foot and ankle also move through inversion and eversion while the foot contacts the ground (for stability). Inversion and eversion are our lateral and medial stability without which we have no roll in the ankle and foot region. Many of the same muscles from flexion are required for this movement: tibialis, flexors, extensors, and peroneus.
Imagine now when the ankle is immobilized with limited or no movement. Who do you imagine might take the shock and force that our natural DOMs in our feet and ankles take? Yes, the upstairs and downstairs neighbors – gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis, and flexors in the feet. Is this starting to sound like the problems above? After 2+ years of running (and Yoga Tune Up® teacher training), it’s now starting to dawn on me that it wasn’t just an achy arch causing pain, discomfort, and that decreased overall performance. I’ve also had some severe issue in the calf region when I first started running. All issues are symptomatic of the lack of ankle mobility.
The Yoga Tune Up® pose Ankle Churning has been my saving grace. Before we can strengthen and lengthen, mobility must be introduced. In Ankle Churning, the foot and ankle are manually moved through this full range of movement – plantar flexion, dorsiflexion, inversion, and eversion. We re-engage muscles like the tibialis, flexors, extensors, gastrocnemius, and soleus. Most of us might not know name and location of these muscles but we can feel them by touch or sense as we perform Ankle Churning (see video below for a demonstration!)
Even though this post is about running, everyone can benefit from using the Ankle Churning exercise. Hikers, Crossfitters, yogis or even office workers who sit all day need care for their feet and ankles to prevent injury. Don’t let shot shocks get the better of you!