Dr. Laura Kummerle discusses the importance of keeping your feet and ankles strong and flexible.
Whether you're an athlete looking to improve your performance, someone recovering from an injury, or simply seeking to maintain an active lifestyle, proper ankle, and foot mobility is essential. As the base of your body, your feet and ankles are responsible for supporting your frame, providing stability, and facilitating movement. Though they might seem insignificant, they affect everything from your knees and hips to even your shoulders.
To find out how to properly care for your feet and ankles, we caught up with Dr. Laura Kummerle, physical therapist and founder of Paradigm of Perfection.
“Foot and ankle health is one of the many things that can influence other areas,” says Kummerle, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. “Unless you have an injury to your foot or ankle, you often don’t think about it. But, your feet and ankles can contribute to knee, hip, low back, and even shoulder issues depending on the activities you’re doing.”
“An extreme example of this is Dak Prescott, who had a serious injury to his left ankle playing football and had to have surgery,” Kummerle continues. “After coming back, he ended up having a right lat (shoulder muscle) strain the following season. This likely is due to the change in mechanics of throwing and the change in the forces from the foot and ankle to the shoulder after his injury.”
Kummerle explains, “If you stand and allow your arch to collapse, your knees fall inward and your hips also rotate inward. If you don’t have the foot strength to control the shock absorption and push-off required for walking, running, climbing stairs, and other daily activities, it can impact the forces going through the hips and knees.”
Even simple movements like getting up out of a chair, going down the stairs, and squatting down require a lot of ankle motion, she says. “If you don’t have that motion or you’re not able to utilize that motion in a controlled manner, this can increase the risk of injury.”
“The foot and ankle are also important when it comes to balance, agility, cutting, and reacting to our environment,” says Kummerle. “We have a lot of sensory receptors that give us information about our environment and allow us to react to the surface that we’re standing on to help keep us upright. Although the feet and ankles are extremely important, it is also important to be aware of how the hips can impact the feet and ankles and how we can’t isolate just one area of the body. It’s more important how the different parts work together to optimize overall movement.”
“The foot and ankle are quite complex with 26 bones in each foot, and more than 25 different muscles on each side,” Kummerle says.
“A lot of people lack dorsiflexion range of motion or bringing the toes up. A simple calf stretch with both knees bent and straight can loosen up the back of the ankle and bias different muscles,” she recommends.
“There is also a self-mobilization that you can do for the main ankle joint to improve this motion. You always want to follow up mobility work with strengthening to help control the range of motion and maintain the improved motion you just gained. For this example, this can be as simple as leaning against a wall and lifting your toes up, keeping your knees straight,” Kummerle says.
She also advises considering hip strength and control, as weakness in the hip can often impact how the foot and ankle move.
For those that are looking to go more in-depth with foot and ankle care, Kummerle has a 6-8 week prehab program that focuses on improving mobility and strength in your lower limbs. “It’s a comprehensive approach to improving how you’re moving from the big toe to the hips,” she says of the detailed program.
If you’re not quite ready to take a deep dive into foot and ankle care with the program, you can start to learn more with this video here and this follow along lower body workout with a bias toward foot/ankle strength. Although that workout is a little more advanced than the program, it may give you a few ideas to begin implementing a few exercises into your everyday routine. They might seem simple and insignificant, but you’ll be amazed at how focusing on your feet and ankles will positively impact your lifts, as well as your overall physical health.
You can check out all of Dr. Kummerle’s programs here, or follow her on IG @paradigmofperfection or YouTube for more tips, exercises, workouts, and educational content about improving how your body moves.