There are lots of styles and brands of shoes out there that athletes can wear these days. Adidas, Nike, Under Armor and many others produce a wide variety of shoes that athletes wear when they perform on the field. Have you ever thought about how you should select an every day shoe to wear though? If you haven’t, then you fall into the category with the rest of the 99% of the population that select shoes just based off of how they look. There are actually extremely big implications on the foot and the rest of the body that will most definitely affect the way you perform on the playing field just by choosing the right pair of “every day” shoes. Today, let’s take a look at how this takes place.

The Complex Human Foot

The human foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility. The foot is the first part of the body to strike the ground when humans run, jump, bound, throw, or even skip. Is every foot created the same though? The answer to this question is absolutely not! This is why it is so important to understand how problems in the foot can lead to issues up the kinetic chain in the knee, hip, low back, and even further up. When the foot strikes the ground during activity, there is a lot of sensory input and kinesthetic input that is going back to the brain to tell the rest of the body how it should or should not perform. This information is crucial in the performance of the activity that the athlete is trying to perform. Since we are specialists on the QB position, we are going to talk about how the foot relates to a good throwing motion.

Proper Foot Mechanics

When the foot strikes the ground, it should act as a semi-rigid structure that can accept the forces of the body and then propel them forward while maintaining that semi-rigid structure. One area of the foot that we often look at is the arch of the foot and what happens to the arch when an athlete applies weight to it. We want to show you what a good arch looks like compared to what a collapsed arch looks like.

When talking about force production, the foot that can maintain an arch will be able to produce much more force. The intrinsic musculature of the foot and the ligaments on the inside part of the arch will act to maintain that structure. When talking about the throwing motion, this allows the quarterback to drive from a stable foot which will translate well up the chain when trying to develop velocity on throws. From a functional standpoint, if the foot is performing its’ duties like it should, then there will not have to be any compensatory strategies from the quarterback in areas elsewhere in the body to make up for this lack of stability. Doesn’t everyone have this capability you might ask? It’s easy to talk about the foot performing well, but most times this definitely is not the case. Let’s jump into the dysfunctional foot and the causes of it now!

The Average American Shoe

When talking about force production, the foot that can maintain an arch will be able to produce much more force. The intrinsic musculature of the foot and the ligaments on the inside part of the arch will act to maintain that structure. When talking about the throwing motion, this allows the quarterback to drive from a stable foot which will translate well up the chain when trying to develop velocity on throws. From a functional standpoint, if the foot is performing its’ duties like it should, then there will not have to be any compensatory strategies from the quarterback in areas elsewhere in the body to make up for this lack of stability. Doesn’t everyone have this capability you might ask? It’s easy to talk about the foot performing well, but most times this definitely is not the case. Let’s jump into the dysfunctional foot and the causes of it now!

The first thing I want you to see is how thick the heel of the shoe is. This plays a huge role in many ways in how the rest of the body performs when the athlete is performing every day activities. The first problem is created when the athlete is standing in a pair of shoes like this.

You all might laugh when looking at this picture, but I want you to understand the concept of what is actually happening here. When an athlete is standing in a pair of shoes that has an elevated heel, there will inevitably be problems elsewhere in the body. Most of the athletic shoes that we see today for the youth have at least a 1 inch heel lift from the ground. This has serious implications as you can see. The center of mass of the body is distributed forward which will cause problems up the kinetic chain. The first area of the body that is affected is the ankle.

The Calf and the Ankle

When the body is slightly shifted into this forward position, all of the muscles on the backside of the body (extensors) have to go into over drive to make up for this dysfunctional position. Most notably, the calf muscles are now going to be greatly affected. The calfs will now be in a constantly lengthened position which creates stiffness (tone) in the muscle. A stiff calf will decrease the amount of range of motion an athlete has in ankle dorsiflexion. This relationship is crucial to understand!! Please re-read the previous 2 sentences if this is not super clear to you. I have provided some graphics below to try and illustrate this concept.

So since the constant tension is being put into the system, there will inherently be a lack of ankle dorsiflexion. Ankle dorsiflexion is extremely important to have during activities such as squatting and walking. If breathing is the thing that humans do most during the course of their days, walking is a close second. Prolonged periods of walking and moving with shoes that have a heel will slowly but surely start to change the structure of the ankle and the foot. The ankle will become extremely stiff and there will most definitely be compromised mechanics of walking that can be extremely detrimental for an athlete.

The Chicken or the Egg

The old joke is what came first, the chicken or the egg? In the situation with the foot and the ankle, we can ask a similar question. What came first, an unstable foot or a stiff ankle? In both cases, one will cause the other. In the example above, as the ankles get stiffer, the foot will start to become more unstable because the structure of the foot starts to become more compromised with movement. This is especially true for athletes as they walk more and more. The answer to this question might be that the development of improper foot wear led to a lot of these problems that we are seeing now.

Dysfunctional Gait

The gait cycle is an extremely involved and complex system of movements. The phase that I want to specifically focus on today is terminal stance phase and how it relates to what we are talking about above. First let’s define what terminal stance is below.

You can see that this phase requires a person to have adequate amounts in ranges of motion of ankle dorsiflexion. When the person doesn’t then they have two options if they want to continue to walk as a human being. They can either vault early on their foot which is what you see in people that walk on their toes or midfoot more, or they will turn their foot out to the side and collapse their arch. These are both compensations for improper structure in the ankle due to the domino effect of what we talked about above. Below, I have two picture examples of what I’m talking about. In the example of the toe walker, this creates even more tone in the calf muscles which will cause dysfunctional movement. As for the person that turns the foot out to the side, this will lead to a lot of arch collapsing, as well as limitations in ranges of motion of the hip.

Ankle Dorsiflexion and Hip Extension/Hip Internal Rotation

Let’s tie in how this relates to the specific throwing motion now. As the ankles get tighter and tighter, so will the hip flexors or the muscles on the front side of the hip joint. During gait, if the ankle does not go into full range of ankle dorsiflexion, the hip will also not go into full hip extension. Well, this is a HUGE problem for quarterbacks as they need this hip extension range of motion for proper accuracy and velocity on their throws. I have written many previous blog posts on this specific relationship as I will attach those below.

Above, we also talked about how people will compensate during gait by turning their foot out to the side to work around the range of motion restriction at the ankle. When the foot is turned out to the side, this will externally rotate the hip during hip extension. This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what quarterbacks want to try and accomplish during the loading and acceleration phases of the throwing motion. A quarterback that walks with their feet turned out is one that automatically has limited capacity to perform to their potential. Isn’t that crazy?? So many players out there walk like this. I have attached an article below talking about hip internal rotation specifically and how it relates to the throwing motion.

How Do You Fix This?

Well, there are a variety of ways that you can start to try and eliminate the problems that we are talking about above. Most likely, you are going to be someone who is already limited in their capability to have these proper ranges of motion and stability. Next week, I will be writing an article talking about specific fixes for the foot, ankle, and hips. As for a simple solution starting today, go out and buy better shoes that you wear around every day. Don’t buy anymore shoes with heels. The shoes that I am wearing in the pictures are a minimalist shoe and we believe that they are the best shoe on the market. The company’s name is vivobarefoot. Let us know if you are interested in them, and we can get you a discount code! You can literally increase performance by wearing around different shoes. Talk about a low hanging fruit that you can grab right now!

Recap

So let’s do a quick recap so you can fully grasp the domino effect of what it is to wear poorly made shoes.

Shoes with heels —>  Center of Mass that is Forward —> Tone in Calf Musculature —>

Tight Calfs —> Improper Squatting and Walking —> Walking with a Vault or with foot out —>

Tight Hip Flexors and Hip External Rotators —> Inability to Extend and Internally Rotate Hip —>

Decreased Accuracy and Velocity When Throwing For Quarterbacks

Talk about a terrible domino effect huh? We all fell victim to this and that is why we are aware of it. Don’t go down this road and start by changing your shoes! For questions, please reach out by calling/texting me at 812-343-4226 or by emailing me at drew@theqbdocs.com.

-Drew Kiel PT, DPT, CSCS