Riding the inside edge of the sandal. Mystery hunting with Dr. Allen.

You can see it in the photo above, the heel is a third of the way off the sandal. (there are 2 photos provided today, find the arrow and tab to see both)

You either have it or have seen it. It is frustrating as hell if you have it. Your heel rides on only half of your flip flop or summer sandals. You do not notice it in shoes, only in sandals, typically ones without a back or back strap.  This is because the heel has no controlling factors to keep it confined on the rear of the  sandal sole. But there is a reason this happens to some, but not everyone. It is best you read on, this isn’t as simple as it might seem. 

These clients have restricted ankle rocker (dorsiflexion), restricted hip extension and/or adductor twist (if your reference is the direction the heel is moving towards). I could even make a biomechanical case that a hallux limitus could result in the same scenario. So what happens is that as the heel lifts and adducts it does not rise directly vertically off the sandal, it spins off medially from the “adductor twist” event. This event is largely from a torque effect on the limb from the impaired sagittal mechanics as described above, manifesting  at the moment of premature heel rise resulting in an slightly externally rotating limb (adducting heel). The sandal eventually departs the ground after the heel has risen, but the sandal will rise posturing slightly more laterally ( you can clearly see this on the swing leg foot in the air, the sandal remains laterally postured). Thus, on the very next step, the sandal is not entirely reoriented with its rear foot under the heel, and the event repeats itself. The sandal is slightly more lateral at the rear foot, but to the wearer, we believe it is our heel that is more medial because that is the way it appears on the rear of the sandal or flip flop.  Optical illusion, kind of… . . a resultant biomechanical illusion is more like it.

You will also see this one all over the map during the winter months in teenagers who swear by their Uggs and other similar footwear, as you can see in the 2nd photo above. This is not an Ugg or flip flop problem though, this is often a biomechanical foot challenge that is not met by a supportive heel counter and may be a product of excessive rear foot eversion as well.  This does not translate to a “stable” enough shoe or boot, that is not what this is about. This is about a rearfoot that moves to its biomechanical happy place as a result of poor or unclean limb and foot biomechanics and because the foot wear does not have a firm stable and controlling heel counter.  The heel counter has several functions, it grabs the heel during heel rise so that the shoe goes with the foot, it give the everting rearfoot/heel something to press against, and as we have suggested today, it helps to keep the rearfoot centered over the shoe platform.  To be clear however, the necessary overuse and gripping of the long toe flexors to keep flip flops and backless sandals on our feet during the late stance and swing phases of gait, clearly magnifies these biomechanical aberrations that bring on the “half heel on, half heel off” syndrome.

There you have it. Another solution to a mystery in life that plagues millions of folks. 

Dr. Shawn Allen, mystery hunter, and one of the gait guys.

Looking for the subtle clues will help you. You should have hypotheses and work to prove or disprove them. 

“Remember, this client is displaying these weight bearing differences side to side for a reason, this is their adaptive strategy. It is your job to prove that this is the cause of their pain, their adaptive strategy to get out of pain, or this is now a failed adaptive strategy causing pain, yet still not the root of the problem.”

We used to call this a “windswept” presentation. It is not that it is incorrect, but it is so vague.  

Look at these fippy floppers. Look closely at the dark areas, where foot oils and whatnot have played their changes in the leather upper of the flops. The right f.flop displays more lateral heel loading, rear foot inversion if you will. You can even see that there is less big toe pressure on this right side and even some increased lateral forefoot loading. This client appears to be more supinated clearly. You can even see there is more lightness to the arch leather on the right, again, more supination is suggested.

The left f.flop suggests the opposite. More medial heel pressures and more over the medial forefoot and arch. 

Now this clients f.flops tell a story.  So, this client is being windswept to the right we used to say, appearing to pronate more on the left and supinating more on the right.  Why are they doing this? Is the left leg functionally longer and by pronating they reduce the functional length of the leg (yet, increase internal spin of the limb and the host of naughty things that come with that). Is the right leg shorter, and by supinating they are raising the ankle mortise and arch which helps reduce the length differential ?  MAybe a bit of both, finding common ground for a more symmetrical pelvis ?  Who knows. This is where you need your physical exam, but, now you have some hypotheses to prove or disprove. 

“Remember, this client is displaying these weight bearing differences side to side for a reason, this is their adaptive strategy. It is your job to prove that this is the cause of their pain, their adaptive strategy to get out of pain, or this is now a failed adaptive strategy causing pain, yet still not the root of the problem.”

Is there some right hip pain from the right frontal pelvis drift creating some aberrant loading on the greater trochanter from ITB tension ? Perhaps a painful right hallux big toe, and they are unloading it to avoid pain? Maybe some knee pain or low back pain ? Who knows? Take your history and start putting the pieces together, it is your job. Just don’t screen them and throw corrective exercises at them, you owe it to them to examine them, take their history, watch them walk, teach them about what you see, and then sit down, spread the puzzle pieces out, look for the straight edges and corner pieces, and begin to build their puzzle. 

Clues, they are everywhere, if you look for them.

Dr. Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

A test question from Dr. Allen, see how you do with this photo critical thinking.

When you walk on the beach you are on a slope. The leg closer to the water naturally drops down to a lower surface. 

Here is the game …  to keep the pelvis level on the horizon, one would have to:

a. shorten the water side leg

b. lengthen the water side leg

c. pronate the water side leg

d. supinate the water side leg

e. lengthen the beach side leg

f. shorten the beach side leg

g. pronate the beach side leg

h. supinate the beach side leg

i. externally rotate the water side leg

j. internally rotate the water side leg

k. externally rotate the beach side leg

l. internally rotate the beach side leg

m. flex the water side hip

n. extend the water side hip

o. flex the beach side hip

p. extend the beach side hip

******Ok, Stop scrolling right now !!!!!  

List all the letters that apply first.

You should have many letters.  *** And here is the kicker for bonus points, the letters can be unscrambled to spell the name of one of the most popular of the Beatles. Name that Beatle.

.

.

.

don’t look, figure it out before you scroll down further. It is important you try to work through the question and its foundational principles.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Answer: B, D, F , G, I ,L , N, O

* now, more importantly, make sure you think of these issues in all your clients with leg length discrepancies, both anatomic and function and when the pelvis is not level. This is the most important take away from today’s test question. If you got the answers correct, you have the knowledge to implement. If you did not get the answer correct, you need to hammer down the HOW and WHY of the answer before you start playing with people’s bodies putting in heel lifts (boooo), sole lifts, orthotics, postings etc. If you do not have the foundation to play by the rules, you should not be playing.

ok, we were messing with ya on the Beatles thing. Sorry.

Dr. Shawn Allen

Is the “Short Foot” exercise dead ? Dr. Allen thinks it is at the very least, floundering on wobbly premises.

– another blog article by Dr. Shawn Allen

Stand and raise your toes. Where does your arch go ? It should elevate, the arch should increase in height/width/volume thanks to several biomechanical principles, the Windlass mechanism to name one.

Many therapeutic approaches to foot posture correction at some point implement the “Short foot” exercise. In some respects, perhaps many, I think that model may be poorly grounded fundamentally and functionally. My protocols and approach are to restore as functional a foot as possible, during both static and dynamic stance phases of gait, and that means restoring rear and forefoot alignment on a neutral strong competent arch. To be clear, an arch does not need to be high, at whatever its’ height, it just needs to be competent. It is quite possible that I have not truly used the “short foot” exercise in over 10 years in correcting my client’s biomechanics, not in its’ traditionally taught methodology (ie, I have never taught the exercise with the toes flush on the ground, that a mistake in my opinion). I see some limitations in it, and some flaws. These are purely experiential on my part, yet grounded in my successes and failures with many hundreds of clients. This however does not mean I am always right, but i go with what works in my clients. 

When I ask a client to stand up and raise their toes (this is truly how a “short foot” is achieved), pointing out that their arch raised as the toes elevated, they often look puzzled. I often put their orthotic under their foot and again ask them to raise the toes again, thus lifting their apparently “fallen” incompetent arch off the orthotic. I then ask the question, so, are we going to continue to use this device to “Fix” your foot ? Are we going to use a hydraulic push approach restore your foot, or are we going to exercise the muscle that are already there to lift (I like to use a crane analogy) the arch and restore the rear and forefoot relationships ?  Clients always answer this question for me, and they do so quickly.  I am quick to reply that this will take time, repetition, obsession, awareness and homework.  This does not mean every case is successful. Some people have attenuated the ligamentous and tendon structures so badly that a deconstructed arch or weight bearing navicular is just too far gone. There are also those folks who have zero body awareness and that is their rate limiting step.  There are many rate limiting steps in attempting to restore function. We just cannot save everyone. 

I am sure you want answers, protocols, “the order” and “the exercises” I use. Ivo and i have outlined some of them on our blog and on our youtube videos. Somewhat purposefully, we have not prescribed an “order” for them to be done, because each person has their own unique problems and their own order and that is were clinical knowledge must come in to play. You just cannot throw exercises at people and see what sticks, too many people do this already.  I also know that many prescribe the “Short Foot” exercise as homework. That is not a problem for some, but it may have limited value if the prescriber does not realize that 

the exercise has a retrograde approach and a prograde approach. 

What I mean is, with this exercise as it is traditionally taught by many (not all), that you are weight bearing first with the toes down, then shortening the rear-forefoot interval by reacting into the ground, and this is exactly opposite from what truly happens in functional prograde weight bearing. In functional weight bearing the arch and foot need to somewhat splay to load adapt, and more importantly, this has to be a skilled eccentric endurance task. This first portion of the arch splay occurs with the toes off of the ground and so forgetting to teach this part while only teaching the “reacting off the ground, flexor muscle driven approach” is flawed. The toes when on the ground utilize the flexor muscles help to resist the latter phase of arch accommodation, but again to be clear, this does not occur in the initial weight bearing phase where eccentrics of the anterior compartment muscles rule the roost. What I am trying to say is that there is never a point in the functional stance phase of the gait cycle where the rearfoot and forefoot are approximating, other than at terminal toe off, it just does not occur.  Hopefully you can see the point of my argument, that this exercise if done improperly (as taught by many) is not functional. 

So is the short foot exercise dead ? Well, to be honest everything has its’ place in this world. Value can sometimes be obtained from the most corrupt of tasks, but there has to be a correlation and transference to the end purpose.  

None the less, this is a pretty prehistoric exercise if you ask me, it needs to be dusted off and updated and retaught correctly, and that is one of my near term missions in the coming weeks. Again, if anything, if there is one morsel of value , the eccentric phase of “letting go” of the short foot posture into a controlled splay is the part of it that has much of any functional relevance.  Teaching your client how to attain a short foot posture, and then to stand and learn to slowly eccentrically release the short foot posture is its main functional value. But, the toes are critical, and a video is key to helping drive this point home, so that is my short term commission. Again, this does not mean there is not value here, so lets not start a social media rant taking my words out of context.  

To summarize, as we are bearing weight down on the foot the arch should be in a controlled pronatory deformation to shock absorb. There is no time to be reacting off the floor into a short foot, that opportunity moment is lost at contact, actually it really never occurs once the ground is met whether one is in initial rearfoot, midfoot or forefoot strike.  The foot has to be prepared at the time of contact with its’ most competent arch, not busy reacting after the fact trying to achieve the competent structure.  The value in the short foot is earning competence in its loading ability and learning to control its adaptive eccentric lengthening, this must be possible in both toe extension and toe flexion (ground contact).  Failure to procure a competent foot will put your client at risk for all of the juicy pathologies we talk about here on The Gait Guys, things like bunions, hammer toes, pes planus, plantar fascitis, tibialis posterior insufficiency and a multitude of various tendonopathies to name just a few.

Need an exciting primer on the types of things a foot should be able to do ? Here are 2 videos. Video link. Video 2 link.

Dr. Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

Yes, you are looking INSIDE this toe. That IS a screw and metal plate in that toe. 

What kind of stuff finds its way into your office ? I get all kinds of things it seems, at least once a day something comes in that makes me scratch my head. 

This client just wanted my opinion and thoughts on their toe and their gait once they are ambulating again. They have had multiple surgeries to this poor foot. You can see multiple scars over multiple digits and metatarsals.  This is the 3rd surgery to the big toe, the last 2 have been attempts at correcting failed prior surgeries. This is obviously the last straw surgery, total fusion of the metatarsophalangeal joint.  What is interesting in this case is that this plate was taken out about 4 weeks ago, and the skin was stretched back over and the wound closed up (forgot to take update photo for you). I saw it yesterday, and I was amazed at how healed up the area was. They are months post op now, and they can load the toe heavily now, that is always amazing to me. The body’s healing ability is a miracle. Of course, if you have been with us here long enough you will know that my “concern button” immediately got pushed but the client was proactive and asked the question before my oral diarrhea of concerns started.

So, they wanted to know about their gait and what to watch out for.  Off the top of your head, without thinking, you should be able to rattle off the following:

  • impaired toe off
  • premature heel rise
  • watchful eye on achilles issues
  • impaired hip extension and gluteal function
  • impaired terminal ankle plantar flexion (because they cannot access the synergists FHL and FHB)
  • impaired terminal ankle dorsi flexion (because they cannot access the synergists EHL and EHB)
  • lateral toe off which will promote ankle and foot inversion, which will challenge the peronei
  • frontal plane hip-pelvis drift because of the lateral toe off and lack of glute function
  • possible low back pain/tightness because of the  frontal plane pelvis drift and from altered hip extension motor patterning (and glute impairment)
  • possible knee pain from tracking challenges because they cannot complete medial tripod loading and thus sufficient pronation to internally spin the limb to get the knee to sagittal loading
  • impaired arm swing, more notable contralaterally

There is more, but that is enough for now. You need to know total body mechanics, movement patterns, normal gait cycle events (you have to know normal to know abnormal) and more. You have to know what normal is to understand when you are looking at abnormal.

* So, dial this back to something more simple, a “stubbed toe”, a painful sesamoid, painful pronation or a turf toe or hallux limitus.  They will all have the same list of complications that need to be evaluated, considered and addressed. This list should convey the importance that if your client has low back pain, examining the big toe motion is critical. Also, if you are just looking at the foot and toe in these cases, pack your bags … .  you don’t belong here. If you are just adjusting feet and toes and playing with orthotics while the list above does not constantly file back and forth through your brain, again, pack all your bags, grab your cat and leave town (just kidding, try reading more and get to some seminars).

If you know the complicated things, then the simple things become … … . . simple.

Your local treadmill gait analysis guru should know all of this if they are going to recommend shoes and exercises. Shame on them if there is no physical exam however. The data roadmap from the gait analysis software print out is not going to get you even out of the driveway let alone down the street. The data is going to tell you what you are doing to compensate, not tell you what is wrong. You must know anatomy, biomechanics, neurology, orthopedics and how to apply them to get the recipe right, not just which shoe in a store will unload the medial tripod of the foot or which exercise will lengthen your stride on the left. 

… .  sorry for the rant, too much coffee this morning, obviously.

Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

Eliminating the fake out of ample ankle rocker through foot pronation in the squat and similar movements:  How low can you go ? 

This is a simple video with a simple concept. 

* Caveat: To avoid rants and concept trolling, am blurring lines and concepts here today, to convey a principle. Do not get to tied up in specifics, it is the principle I want to attempt to drive home.  What you see in this video is clearly more lunge/knee forward flexion rather than hip hinge movement. However, keep in mind, that this motion does occur at the bottom of many movements, including the squat. 

You can achieve or borrow what “appears” to be more ankle dorsiflexion, a term we also loosely refer to as ankle rocker, through the foot, foot pronation to be precise. Do not mistaken this extra forward tibial progression range as ankle rocker mobility however. When you need that extra few degrees of ankle dorsiflexion deep in your squat, or similar activities, you can get it through your foot. Often the problem is that you do not think that is where it is coming from, you might just think you have great ankle mobility.  Many deep squatters are borrowing those last few degrees of the depth of the squat from the foot. This is not a problem, until it is a problem.  Watch the video above.  Why ? Because when the foot pronates and begins to collapse (hopefully a controlled collapse/pronation) the knee follows. Forcing the knees outward in a squat like some suggest is a bandaid, but I assure you, the problem is still sitting on the table. 

Go do a body weight squat with the toes up like in this video. Toes up raises the arch from wind up of the windlass and increased activity of the toe extensors and some assistance from the tibialis anterior and some other associated “helper” muscles.  When the arch is going up, it cannot go down. So, you raise your toes and do your squat. This will give you a better, cleaner representation of how much mobility in your squat/lunge/etc is from ankle dorsiflexion, knee flexion and  hip flexion. You can cheat and get some from the foot. The foot can be prostituted to magnify the global range, and like I said, this is not a problem until it IS a problem.   We know that uncontrolled and unprotected increases in foot pronation can cause a plethora of problems like plantar tissue strain, tibialis posterior insufficiency and tendonopathies, achilles issues, compression at the dorsum of the cuneiform bones (dorsal foot pain) to name a few. This dialogue however is not the purpose of this blog post today. You can read more about these clinical entities, proper foot tripod skills and windlass mechanics on other blog posts on this site. 

Today, we just wanted to bring this little “honesty” check to your awareness. Has been a staple in my clinic for over a decade, to help me see where limitations are and to show folks how they can cheat so much through the foot. Go ahead, try it yourself, see how much you use your foot to squat further if you have end range mobility issues in the hips, knees or ankles.  The foot is happy to give up the goat, it just doesn’t know the repercussions until they show up. 

So, lift your toes, do a full squat. Go as low as you can with good form with the toes up.  Then, at the bottom of the squat or the bottom of  your clean mobility, suddenly drop your toes and let the arch follow if it must. Here is the moment of truth, at that moment the toes go down, feel what happens to the foot, ankle, tibial spin, knee positioning, pelvis posture changes. Careful, these are subtle. You may find you are using foot pronation more that you should, more than is safe.  Now try this, bottom out your cleanest squat as you regularly would, and at the bottom, raise your toes and try to reposition the foot arch and talus height. In other words, reposture your foot tripod, see how difficult this is if you can do it at all. Perhaps you will find your toe extensors are too weak to even get there.  This is how we cheat and borrow. We should not make it a habit, it should be used when we need it, but it should not be a staple of your squatting diet, it should not be a regular event where you prostitute sound biomechanics.  Unless you wish to pay for it in some way.  What should happen is that you should be able to bring your toes down and not let the arch follow, but that is a skill most have not developed. It is a staple move in your clients’ movement diets.

Does all this mean you should squat with your toes up ? No, but it may serve you well in awareness, evaluation, and looking for potholes and power leaks. At the very least, give it some thought and consideration. You may see some smiles and have some lightbulb moments between you and your athletes and clients. 

Plan on blocking this foot pronation range with an orthotic ? How dare you ! At least try to do it through reteaching this and the tripod skill first. Give your a client a chance to improve rather than a bandaid to cope. 

Dr. Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

Pronating around internal hip rotation loss.

This is a remedial principle, but it is always nice to capture it on video like this. Watch this clients left foot. On initial impressions you might just say too much foot pronation, and you would be right. Some of you might say abductor-adductor twist of the foot. These are all correct. But, if we told you that this was a hip complaint client, and lack of internal hip rotation this foot action should be a simple 60Watt “light bulb moment” (translation: “epiphany”), certainly not a 100Watt moment (but for some it might be).  

This client cannot internally rotate through the hip adequately, so they have found the opposite end of the limb to internally rotate through.  They collapse through the arch/tripod, which essentially in the crudest of analogies “internally screws the limb” into the ground.  They are finding internal femur rotation through foot pronation.  Internal hip rotation is being achieved from a bottom up process if you will. Pronation through the foot complex is adduction, medial rotation and plantarflexion of the talus which will carry the tibia (and thus the femur) with it into internal rotation.  There is a problem in many clients who find that extra little bit of rotation at the hip via a foot/ankle cheat.  That problem is one of corruption of the pelvis antiphasic motion of the pelvis, they will most often dump the same hip laterally and thus drift into the frontal plane instead of achieving the antiphasic motion of the pelvis.  This will decouple the rotation of the torso in the opposite rotation of the pelvis, and thus begin the corruption of arm swing.  Want to take it another level deeper ? Ok, eat this for lunch……. asymmetrical thoracic rotation from side to side will set up. This will mean more work through scapulothoracic stabilization and cervical rotation on the side of the thoracic rotation deficit.  Still not deep enough ? Ok, evaluate their respiration symmetry.   Too many are doing respiratory work before hip rotation is clean and symmetrical, especially during gait that necessitates 1000′s of engraining steps a day.  If the hips are not clean, gait is not clean, and that means repetitive arm swing-thoracic-respiratory mechanics are not clean.

If you want to truly fix someones rooted problems, you have to be willing and able to go down the rabbit hole. 

Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys