The Role of the Foot and Roll of the Ankle in Running - Balanced Movement Studio

The Role of the Foot and Roll of the Ankle in Running

Brian Beatty and Suzanna Vogel

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Shin pain, ankle sprains and rolled ankles are common injuries, particularly for runners. These problems often become chronic, recurring, and frustrating!

We’d like to share a couple simple things you can do to help overcome common foot and ankle issues.

But first, let’s learn a few movement concepts.


The “Role” of the Foot, Ankle, and Shin

Evolutionarily, the ROLE of the foot, ankle and shin had two primary purposes:

 To create a stable base from which to propel ourselves forward as we adapted to the need to walk with two feet on uneven ground.
 To send information up to our brain about how our body weight aligned over our foot. This way, we could move and adjust until we reached stability. The actual moving and adjusting, however, comes from a different joint altogether: the all-powerful HIP! 

The “Role” of the Hip

The evolutionary ROLE of the hip joint was to place our body in a strong, balanced position over the stable foot and then use its strength and power to move in whatever direction we desired.

Because the hip is an all-powerful ball and socket joint (there are only two in your body, the other being the shoulder!) that means it can move in all 3 planes of motion. This is why the hip is the “control center joint” of lower extremity movement.

The “Roll” of the Hip and Ankle

The role of the hip is to ROLL the body over the stable base provided by the foot and ankle. The foot and ankle will ROLL on the ground to allow movement to happen, but only as a result of the control of the hip. Remember: the foot and ankle’s primary goal is to provide a stable base of support, and to send feedback to the brain about the ground and the body’s position.

Try this: Plant your foot firmly on the ground. When you move your hip with your foot planted, your pelvis will ROLL your body weight over your leg, thus controlling the ROLL of your ankle.

Notice what it’s like when you try to make the movement come from your KNEE. Not as stable, right? Maybe you even experience a little pain?

Turns out a lot of runners end up attempting to control the “roll” of the ankle from a joint other than the hip (like the knee). Because this is a “role” it’s not suited to, if often leads to injury or pain. 


Fast forward to our culture today

We confine our feet in shoes, we walk and run on primarily flat, hard surfaces and we sit on our once powerful and mobile hip joints.

Now the feet are unresponsive, the ground surface does not stimulate them to send feedback to the brain, and the hips forget what they are supposed to do and how to do it. The shin muscles will then often become overactive trying to move your unresponsive hip to maintain balance. This is another misappropriated “role”: it’s not their job and it is no wonder they complain from doing it!


Let’s return to the exercise

Let’s return to the exercise we looked at above. Follow along with the video below, and pause it after each movement example. Practice each example movement several times on each leg until you can feel the different patterns we describe in your own body.

Stable Ankle Circling Hip

If you have issues with ankle sprains

Pay attention to how much your foot wobbles on the ground and the ankle rolls. Practice the hip movement while holding on to a stable chair or a wall until you can move your hip without any change in the foot’s contact surface with the ground.

If you have issues with shin pain

Notice how reactive or irritated your shins are when your knee is circling over your foot. When moving from your hip, your knee must move in a small enough range so that the is no discomfort created in the shin. Focus on allowing the shin muscles to hold your foot stable on the ground, but not react and lift your foot off of the ground.

When this feels comfortable, progress to adding hops and landing


Have fun exploring this idea and these movements to create strong hips and legs and stable feet!


If you have questions or comments, contact us.

Need more information for your unique situation?
Contact us for an individual response
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Balanced Movement Studio

5 out of 5 stars

Nicholas Woronoff
Nicholas Woronoff

5 out of 5 stars

posted 1 year ago

Brian and Andy helped me overcome a herniated disc that had me in pain 24/7. Within a few visits I was back to working out at full capacity without pain. Brian also helped me improve my run stride and movement of my posterior chain in the process. I'm stronger, faster, and healthier now having worked with them than I was before the injury.