The peroneal muscles are not as well known as some of our other lower body superstar muscles, but they are vital for healthy gait mechanics, especially on uneven surfaces. Improper body alignment or wearing unsound footwear may not only create discomfort or injury to the peroneals, but to other muscles and joints also, near and far from feet and ankles. Before buying summer sandals, take a moment to consider the potential hazards in the shoe department and how flip flops can cause foot pain.
The peroneus longus and brevis originate from outside of the fibula. The tendon of the stealthy peroneus longus passes below the 5th metatarsal, crosses the sole of the foot and inserts under the 1st metatarsal and cuneiform bones. This is a key component in the pulley/lever system of the foot; creating stabilization of the great toe during movement, balance, and especially walking gait. In 1954, podiatrist John Hicks was the first to compare the marvelous arch mechanism of the human foot to a ‘windlass,’ a term taken from sailing and heavy equipment design. Windlass describes a powerful winch where a cord is wound around a cylinder to lift a heavy load. In the human foot, this effect is demonstrated when the plantar fascia (the ‘cord’) pulls from the calcaneus and toes dorsiflex, especially the big toe; where it coils around the metatarsal heads (‘cylinder’) to pull the “load” (you).
During the dorsiflexion of the big toe, the peroneus longus stabilizes gait. However, when wearing flip-flops, the big toe actually plantar flexes in order to grab the flip-flop and prevent it from slipping off the foot! This partial destruction of nature’s amazing “windlass effect” is only one way flip-flops foster dysfunctional motor patterns in muscles of the foot, particularly in the peroneus longus, while hindering the plantar fascia from doing its job. This disruption of proper mechanics also renders the arch of the foot far less effective, allowing the “load” to move precariously above. This literally takes some ‘spring’ out of your step. While high heels are known to cause postural dysfunction and injury, flip-flops may be the more stealthy ‘arch rivals.’
When irrational shoe selection must prevail for a special day, try to practice moderation and some self-care. Here is a great Yoga Tune Up® video demonstrating one way to improve mobility and strength in ankle and foot stabilizers, giving that extra care to your amazing ‘windlass’ soles: