The action of lifting the foot higher towards the shin is known as dorsiflexion. It refers to the upward flexion of the foot in the dorsal direction.
When walking, people use dorsiflexion. The foot will achieve its maximum range of dorsiflexion during the middle stages of weight bearing and immediately before pushing off the ground.
If there are issues with dorsiflexion, the body will compensate automatically, which might lead to other problems.
Dorsiflexion and plantar flexion
The foot must be raised upward between 10 and 30 degrees for a movement to be labeled dorsiflexion.
The muscles at the front (anterior) of the foot are used in dorsiflexion.
Muscle tendons that run through the front of the foot and into the ankle joint include the following:
- tibialis anterior
- extensor hallucis longus
- extensor digitorum longus
The deep peroneal nerve supplies these tendons, which are positioned on the front of the leg. Damage to this nerve can make it impossible for a person to raise their foot.
Plantar flexion is the inverse of dorsiflexion, and it entails moving the foot downward, toward the earth.
When the foot is moved between 20 and 50 degrees, it is called plantar flexion.
The tendons that generate plantar flexion are found on the back (posterior) and inside of the leg, and run through the ankle joint into the back of the foot. These include:
- tibialis posterior
- flexor digitorum longus
The only part of a person’s body in contact with the ground when standing erect is their foot.
Any connection between the foot and the ground, in a kinetic chain, passes through the ankle and then the rest of the body.
As a result, issues with the foot and ankle can have an impact on the rest of the body. The knees are frequently the first to be afflicted, followed by the hips and back, and finally the shoulders and neck.
Someone with weak dorsiflexion is unable to raise their foot upward or has limited movement.
Poor dorsiflexion can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Ankle joint restriction: This is when the ankle joint itself is restricted. Scar tissue in the joint or a tight joint capsule might cause this. A joint capsule is a fluid-filled connective tissue that acts as a natural ‘hinge’ in the body.
- Flexibility deficit: When the muscles in the calf, known as the Gastroc/Soleus complex, are tight and induce constriction, dorsiflexion issues might ensue.
- Genetics: A person’s genetics can be connected to poor dorsiflexion.
- Ankle injury: A person may limit their activity to prevent pain if a sprain has not healed properly. When you do this on a regular basis, the joint capsule tightens and scar tissue forms, restricting dorsiflexion.
- Other injuries: Damage to the lower body, including the hip and back, can cause a person to change their walking style and alter their dorsiflexion.
Any dorsiflexion issues that arise can cause injuries all the way up the body, from the knee to the shoulder. This domino effect has the ability to work in both directions.
If someone is concerned about their ankle dorsiflexion, there is a simple test that can be used to see if they are moving normally. The “knee to wall test” is what it’s called.
When a person executes a lunge with their feet flat on the ground and one knee just touching a wall, this is known as a wall lunge.
The degree of ankle dorsiflexion achieved can be measured with a tape measure from the end of the big toe to the wall, with each centimeter (cm) corresponding to roughly 3.6 degrees.
Dorsiflexion that is greater than 12.5 cm is considered typical. Some people believe that testing the range of motion of ankle dorsiflexion when the foot and ankle are weight bearing is the best way to go.
There are a variety of exercises that can be used to help improve ankle dorsiflexion, depending on the cause.
Stretching the calves can help with limited dorsiflexion caused by tight calves. Stretches that are beneficial include:
- Gastrocnemius stretch: Keep the back leg straight with front knee forward until feeling a stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.
- Soleus muscle stretch: Lean against a wall with the leg that needs stretching at the back. Bend the knee with heel on the ground until feeling a stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.
- Stretching on a step: Place foot on a step and then lower heel down to the ground until a stretch is felt and hold for 20 seconds.
Exercises that can help with dorsiflexion difficulties caused by joint limitation include:
- Squats and lunges: One of the easiest ways to improve dorsiflexion.
- Training barefoot: Shoes can be restrictive, so if a person trains barefoot the ankle will dorsiflex naturally.
Stretching correctly is important because using the incorrect method might render the workout ineffective or cause further issues.
Restriction and muscle tightness causing dorsiflexion issues can be alleviated over time by particular workouts unless the ankle has been permanently damaged due to trauma.
It is important to allow enough time for recuperation and therapy after any injury. Returning to activities too soon can lead to additional issues.
Because the ankles bear a lot of weight, it’s important to rest them after an injury by limiting walking and standing for long periods of time.
Because most people can’t avoid walking or standing all day, over-the-counter shoe sole supports are one option to alleviate pain and prevent subsequent issues.