Dorsiflexion for Injury Prevention
By Joey Levine, Personal Trainer
Here's a simple test for you. Look down at your feet. Do they point straight ahead, or do they point outward? If they point straight, congratulations, you passed; if they point outward, it means you need to work on your dorsiflexion.
So what is dorsiflexion? Although the term sounds like it might be the newest technology in active clothing, dorsiflexion is actually related to ankle flexibility and the ability to pull your toes toward your shin. For example, when we walk, one ankle should be in dorsiflexion while the other is in plantar flexion (raising the heel off the ground). Believe it or not, most of us can't do this.
While dorsiflexion is emphasized by athletes who sprint and during plyometric exercises like squats, it's important for everyone to work on it. Not doing so could lead to various muscular and mobility issues and result in serious injury. So how could something seemingly unimportant cause so much damage? It's a domino effect.
The first problem to arise — or domino to fall — is calf tightness. Calves become such a dominant muscle that pronation (feet pointing outward) happens. Once your feet are in pronation, your arches will eventually collapse and you'll have zero stability in your foot. Arch supports help, but here's the hitch: You're only masking the problem, not getting rid of the root of the cause.
Next is quadriceps dominance. This essentially gives your hamstrings and glutes a day off … for the rest of your life. Since both of these muscles are the pillars of the spine, your lower back will succumb to chronic pain. For good measure, don't forget to add in a sprinkle of knee pain and stability, as well as shoulder and neck pain.
When the pain sets in, your doctor will prescribe rest and maybe pain killers, but that's just a temporary fix, like putting a band aid on an infected wound without cleaning it first. You won't see it that way initially, but a few years down the road, that pain will amass and develop into a serious injury.
If you're already experiencing any of these symptoms, the good news is that it's not too late to reverse them. And if they're not occurring yet, now's the best time to work on dorsiflexion. Next time you're in the club, try this quick five-minute regimen:
1. Ankle Mobility
Put your foot on a one-inch surface. Make sure your heel stays on the ground the entire time. Push your knee over your toe as far you can without letting your heel come up, and go back-and-forth. Do this 10-15 times per side per day.
2. Duck Walks
Put your heels on the ground and point your toes as high as you can without locking your knees. Keep a slight bend on the knees and start walking, keeping your toes pointed until you feel a slight burn in the shins. Some people mistake this for shin splints, but it's actually the tibialis anterior activating, which allows the toes to pick up off the ground.
Find a box at a height that you're comfortable with and put your foot on the top of it. (If you don't have a box, a step will do.) Make sure your foot is in dorsiflexion before you step up. Ensure that all your weight is on your heel, squeeze your butt, and step up. When you go back down, make sure to maintain your front knee forward, as you never want to rock back.
As the quote goes, "You don't move well because you're fit; you're fit because you move well." So no matter if you're an elite sprinter or just a casual gym-goer, dorsiflexion is essential to your health and one of the movements you should be improving on the daily.
Joey Levine is a Personal Trainer at Renaissance ClubSport Walnut Creek who uses his athletic experience and training knowledge to help his clients get to and exceed the goals that they desire. Joey uses different methods and techniques depending on the client's wants and needs and makes fitness a fun, enjoyable, and rewarding experience.