Strong Foot Muscles are the Foundation of the Body

Each foot is made up of 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. And to think we stand on them all day, sometimes exerting them to the repetitive stresses of 10,000 steps!

The feet are important. And the way we look at them is the foundation of the body. Much like the foundations of a house, the feet hold the body up, just like the foundations of a house function to hold up the walls and the roof. Without good support underneath your body, everything else will likely fall down.

The intrinsic foot muscles are muscles within the sole of the foot. They comprise four layers of small muscles and work with some of the bigger muscles around the ankle (i.e. the calf and tibialis posterior) to stabilise the arch and forefoot.

Research has started to focus on the importance of these foot muscles. Strong foot muscles have been shown to help maintain foot health by improving stability, whilst weakness or an inability to use these muscles may contribute to a range of painful foot conditions such as heel pain, symptomatic flat feet and even bunions and hammer toes.

So why might people have weak foot muscles?

Like any muscle group, if we don’t use them, or they are placed under undue stress, they don’t function at their best. But you would be surprised about how many people can’t even activate or use these muscles! They are small in relative context, but their impact on supporting the foot is profound.

In our experience, people with flat feet have the most difficulty with using their intrinsic foot muscles. As the foot rolls in (i.e. pronates) this lengthens a lot of these muscles. And in a lengthened position, no muscle is strong! In this type of population, our focus is trying to improve foot posture, muscle activation and control of the foot.  

So how do you strengthen them and ensure they won’t cause us a problem?

At TBL Podiatry, we promote a range of foot exercises to strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles. Often health professionals ignore these muscles and simply focus on the bigger muscles and the role of footwear and orthotics to alleviate foot pain.  In our experience the following common five patient groups are most likely to get benefit from intrinsic foot strengthening exercises:

  1. Anyone with painful feet. These types of exercises help improve stability and stop undue stress being applied on certainly areas of the foot. This is particularly important for people with foot arthritis, heel pain, painful flat feet of forefoot pain from bunions, hammertoes and neuromas.
  2. Patients attending clinical exercise classes (i.e pilates/gym) or strength and conditioning sessions. Strong feet allow patients to get more benefit from their exercise programs. Strong feet improve balance and control of the body. They allow you to better activate muscles in the entire body. Ultimately, they make some of those single leg exercises even easier! 
  3. Anyone who has had foot, ankle, knee or hip surgery. We know that weak feet cause increased load on other joints in the lower limb. A key part of a patient’s rehabilitation is ensuring we strengthen the joints, not place more load on them! We also know that the simple concept of laying low and resting after surgery results in deficits in muscle strength. If any patient is non weight-bearing after surgery, these types of exercises are even more important!
  4. If you have orthotics. Too often people are prescribed orthotics and that’s it – just wear them. And then they only fit certain shoes, limiting our choice of fashion footwear that can be worn in warmer months! Improving foot strength will provide you more options with regards to footwear and make you less reliant on your orthotics.
  5. Sports people. Whether you run, play sport or just exercise for health and fitness, strong feet provide you a stable foundation under your body. This is important given the higher forces applied to the body and when quicker movements are performed. Tired feet shouldn’t be a thing after exercise!

An intrinsic foot strength program requires an appointment with a Podiatrist from The Biomechanics Lab. So what can you expect from this appointment?

  1. A full history of any problems you are having, including your medical and exercise history
  2. A thorough biomechanical examination of your foot. This isn’t just done in the room. We get you in the gym and make you walk, squat and move to understand how your foot actually functions during normal daily activities.
  3. A detailed strength assessment of key muscles in your feet.  
  4. A tailored strength program that you can do at home to improve strength, balance and control of your feet.
  5. We will communicate with the other health professionals that are involved in your care.

In conclusion, do your feet a favour – look after them. They go through a lot. And we all have plenty of miles left in them. Strong feet are stable feet. And strong feet are less likely to cause you pain and negatively affect your quality of life.

If you would like to speak to a Podiatrist about your feet, please contact The Biomechanics Lab at Move for Better Health’s Malvern & Magill locations. 

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