Standing, Walking, and Landing: Proper Foot Function and Gait
Clinically, I've been seeing a lot of different foot anomalies, from compressed toes, high arches, swollen plantar fascia, and stiff ankles. It’s my job to correct these imbalances manually and increase range of motion, but once the client leaves, it would be ideal to maintain the corrections.
Learning how to properly load your feet and ankles while standing, walking, and landing can improve your foot function while reducing wear and tear.
There are many factors to consider when talking about the feet because there are many small bones that need to line-up well to distribute pressure and weight properly. Our feet are our foundation, just like the foundation of a house, we want it to be steady and we don’t want any cracks. Ouch!
What is Gait?
There are many different postures in the body, gait is our walking posture. The manner of a person’s standing, walking, and landing habits can determine if one is pain-free or it can determine why one is experiencing foot, knee, hip, or low-back pain.
Many different cues go into having a proper gait, like the length of our stride, swinging our arms, how we strike the ground to how we propel off. Furthermore, proper landing and propulsion can depend heavily on the amount of dorsiflexion that is available in the ankles.
What is Dorsiflexion?
I see a lot of stiffness in dorsiflexion during my assessments and bodywork on clients.
Dorsiflexion can be broken down into 2 words to be better understood:
Dorsal meaning the upper view of the foot, so the top of the arch.
Flexion meaning bending a joint, as opposed to extension, which lengthens a joint.
Therefore, dorsiflexion means when the toes are pointed toward you. To better understand the importance of this action, we can look at the talocrural joint and the subtalar joint.
The talocrural joint is known as the “true ankle joint” because it is where the long bone of the lower leg meets the short bone of the foot. The tibia (the long bone) and the talus (the short bone) meet and perform dorsiflexion.
Inferior to the talocrural joint is the subtalar joint, where the talus and the calcaneus (heel bone) meet. These two short bones articulate on each other, and the joint is commonly known as the “steering wheel of the body”.
If these joints are restricted due to tight fascia around it and improper load, this can compromise the function of the knee and hip, which can cause low back pain. To decrease restriction and increase range of motion, then one needs to practice this motion by flexing and extending the ankle- pointing the toes toward you and then away from you several times. This will lubricate the joint by bringing synovial fluid back to the area and decreasing stiffness in the fascia through movement.
Lastly, it important to note that the calcaneus itself is a hard bone, unable to absorb shock, therefore a heel strike is likely to cause pain if repeated often. A heel strike causes one hard surface to impact the hard surface below us. Looking further in front of the calcaneus is the mid-foot, where the tarsals begin. Tarsals are composed of 7 bones which articulate with our metatarsals, designed for transferring weight.
Let’s put this all together for proper foot function and gait.
Standing, Walking, and Landing Cues:
When standing: Don’t dig in the heels and front load into the toes a bit more. You should now feel even pressure under the balls of the big toe, the little toe, and the heel. These are the tripod points of the foot. Feeling these 3 points evenly distributes pressure and can relieve low back pain.
When walking: First, don’t kick your leg straight out. This is a sign of tight hip flexors or can cause tight hip flexors in the long run. You want to lift one leg with your knee and hip bent, now pause. With the leg raised, dorsiflex your ankle into a 15-degree angle. Next, look at the middle of your foot, it is where you will be landing.
When landing: Land on the mid-foot! This is the area where the little bones are designed to load and distribute weight evenly. The foot will move in the order of heel to toe but avoid striking the heel by landing on the mid-foot, then propel off the toes. Repeat.
When running: The same applies while running, you want to land on the mid-foot, this is the best place to ensure endurance pain free. Once again, landing on the heel during a run with cause pain to travel up. Running on the toes is good for sprinting but will likely cramp the triceps surae or gastrocnemius-soleus complex long-distance.
Other factors to consider:
Sound: A hard or booming sound means a hard strike. That vibration can send pain up the legs to other areas like the knee, hip, or low-back.
Arm swinging: Swinging the arms serves a biomechanical purpose for proper load and energy distribution of the spine.
Proper footwear: Wide-fitted shoes are by far the preferred choice so that the toes and arches all have room to roam!
If you’ve been experiencing low-back pain, stiff ankles, or swollen feet, you may need to look at how you’re standing and walking.
Also, if you notice you have compressed toes, bunions, high arches, and you have thin or pointy shoes, you need to free your feet!
First, ditch the tight shoes and get yourself into a wide-fit where your toes can spread while the shoe is on.
Try toe splaying exercises: How far apart can you spread your toes? Widen then relax your toes repeatedly as an exercise.
Try toe spacers: If toe splaying is hard for you, if you have bunions, or if your toes overlap, you may want to try toe spacers. They slip in between each toe creating space, releases pressure from being squeezed and can realign the little bones of the foot and toes to where they need to be.
Get a foot massage: Ask to focus on your feet during your next massage. Any bodyworker can help relieve pressure and manually align those little bones by softening tight tissues. Plus, there’s nothing that feels quite as good as a foot massage!
A Step in the Right Direction
To sum, our feet are our foundation, however it is our hips that propel the motion. Our hips are a ball-socket joint that rotates, which is why it’s important not to kick-out while walking. Lifting the knees and landing on the mid-foot is a step in the right direction for proper gait.
Get my recommendation for wide-fit shoes here: