For those of you who were waiting anxiously for parts 2 and 3 of my Foot and Ankle series I apologize for never getting those written. Note to self, write ALL THREE parts of a three part series before posting the first one. I will. I think my problem was that in the process I'd OVERCOME my ankle issues finally and had moved on in my mind. I have so much going on in my brain that it's hard to write about something other than what I'm thinking in the moment! No excuses tho.
However, I'm writing this because lucky for me, and you, I just came across an awesome article by Carson Boddicker, a performance specialist and educator on topics pertaining to optimal running performance, who also has ties to Athletes' Performance.
In the article he discusses ankle anatomy and mechanics and gives great options for corrective exercises. The one I feel helps me keep my ankles in check is what he calls the 'heel drop.' Its a staple in my workouts all year long. There is a great video and explanation of it in the article along with a few other exercises that are right on.
A few exerpts...It begins:
"The ankle is the most frequently injured joint in sport, accounting for one-third of all injuries. As the Western approach to medicine is highly reactionary in nature, we typically follow ankle injuries up with rest and taping to assist the body in stabilizing motion." [NOTE: WE'VE GOTTA CHANGE THIS.]
He continues, "Unfortunately, in many cases, this isn’t enough to restore proper function at the ankle and leads to a loss of ankle dorsiflexion and an increased likelihood of repeated ankle injury in the future."
"Like most things, to get an understanding of how to fix an issue, you must first understand the proper mechanism." [EXACTLY! Right on Carson.]
"As the issues can be both joint mobility restrictions and muscular tightness, achieving proper dorsiflexion should be addressed with a multifaceted approach including altering tissue lengths, joint mobility, and other modifiable lifestyle factors"
There are many videos presented in the article. The exercises are right on the mark. Here is one of the examples he gives of heel drops:
Move well all.
I've decided to make this a three part series. I started out simply to write a blog about some of the foot and ankle mobility, stability and strength exercises I do, since I have been asked a lot about that. However my journey that has led me to this point in my knowledge and understanding of the foot and ankle is one that really defines my career. Along the way, as I continued to challenge my body and myself to overcome this particular problem, I always thought about how valuable my experiences have been and have wanted to share with others the steps it took to get to the solutions I've found knowing that they might bring something to light for others. The lessons I've learned have been about connecting the dots, not only within the body, but in past experiences, even daily habits, that might be related to an injury that's holding us back. Seeking answers for ourselves, not stopping when someone else is stumped or says it can't be done, taking responsibility for ourselves, our body and our performance, are all pivitol to our success...because usually IT CAN BE DONE, but you have to want it; you have to believe it; and you can't stop until you get there.
My right foot and ankle joints have been the nemesis of my body's imbalances my entire career. A severe injury to my right ankle that I sustained during tennis camp in high school (complete lateral ligament tear,) which proved to be no problem during the six subsequent years of my swimming career, reared its ugly head in the form of severe knee pain directly over the top of my kneecap during the first few weeks of my training as a triathlete. It did not occur to me right away that the 8 year old injury was my knee's problem.
As the story goes, I was immediately advised to get a set of custom orthodics which, when worn in a standing position seemed to give support where it was needed, since my knee 'magically' went from an inwardly rotated position to being perfectly straight forward facing. Problem solved. Or so I was told.
It did help, for a while. That was in 1998. I had a very successful amateur season in 1999 and in 2000 I turned pro. By July that year however I ended up with a stress fracture in the right side of my L5 vertebrae: the vertebrae that sits right on top of the sacrum. Note: the RIGHT side. Coincidence. Not likely. In all of my running photos that year (and still, if I don't keep up with my functional training,) every time I landed on my right leg, my body would look completely crooked: right hip slanted upward, right shoulder lower than my left, etc. Every time I landed on my left leg, I looked stable, strong, tall and aligned. You could just 'see' the pressure that my poor L5 vertebrae was having to resist when I landed on my right leg. Essentially, instead of some of the strongest muscles in my body, i.e. my glutes, responding to the forces of my foot strike, my L5 was having to withstand the pressure. At least some of it. : (
There you go, I said it: GLUTES.
Giving credit where credit was due, turns out my ankle wasn't the only culprit.
Nobody ever told me to use my glutes! Which (and I'll go into this in more detail later) not only take the pressure off the knees, ankles and feet, but also provide femoral control -- essentially keeping the femur (thigh bone) in proper alignment from the hip to the knee thereby giving the knee and ankle joints a better chance of maintaining their own proper alignment, which is a much more fool-proof and powerful way to control your body weight and the ground reaction forces sustained while running, when compared with relying solely on an orthodic to do so.
It was years before I learned how important proper postural alignment along with glute activation and glute strength are for injury resistance, efficiency of movement and overall performance in my sports. Simply put, when they are doing their job properly, it takes a LOT of the pressure of the rest of the joints and makes movement much more efficient and powerful.
I will do additional posts on glute activation and strength. But sticking to the Foot + Ankle topic I'm going to jump ahead to segway this into Part 2. Once I'd prioritized my training, cleaned up most, if not all of my asymmetries and alignment issues, and essentially re-created my body from the inside out, it was finally the right time to get specific about my foot and ankle complex. This way I gave myself the best chance to make a significant change to that part of my body. To have attacked the problem in the opposite order, from the foot up, would've made success near impossible. My foot responded well to some basic intrinsic exercises and I never had another niggle, anywhere, again. That was through 2005.
Jump ahead to 2008 after my two-year break from training and even very little exercise. I found out that during my normal daily living, my movement patterns and habits while simply walking around, had (unbeknownst to me) taken my compensations to a WHOLE other level. My right quad was terribly atrophied and essentially shut off, my right foot might as well have been splinted it was so atrophied and even immobile in parts, and bones of my ankle joint were majorly twisted out of neutral. I wish I had taken photos.
Part 2 // In Part Two I will discuss the foot and ankle, including my own and it's limitations and other common injuries. I'll describe the challenges I ran into with getting help for it and how I came to figure out on my own what was wrong with it.
Part 3 // In Part Three I will finally get into the movements and exercises that I implemented to get it working properly and those I continue to do to maintain proper alignment and injury resistance.
If you have any specific issue's you would like me to try to speak to, please email me and I'll try to incorporate it.
Whew! That's been a long time coming...if you've read this far...thanks...and stay tuned!