“OH MY ACHY FEET!” – Engaging the windlass mechanism
What is the Windlass Mechanism?
The windlass mechanism raises the arch of the foot and subsequently tightens the foot as you take a step to move forward. This allows the foot to function as a shock-absorber when your heel hits the ground and then switch to function as a rigid lever that helps propel you forward for your next step. A properly activated windlass mechanism gives your foot the stability it needs to effectively walk and run.
The flattening of your arch and stretching of the plantar fascia during the mechanism also saves you energy. It is estimated that those who effectively engage the windlass mechanism in gait can achieve energy savings at more than 15 percent higher than those who walk or run without a properly activated windlass mechanism. The foot stores energy when it flattens, or pronates, in the form of a stretched plantar fascia. When the foot arches, or supinates, that energy is then released, and we are propelled forward from the elastic properties in the foot’s arch acting as a spring mechanism, without any conscious muscle activation on our part.
Passive Mobility of the Big Toe
Dorsiflexion of the big toe is an important component of the windlass mechanism. This involves being able to lift your big toes when both your feet are planted on the ground. If this is difficult to engage, a physiotherapist will be able to help you improve the mobility of your big toe through manual therapy and prescribed exercises.
Inflammation of the plantar fascia’s insertion into the heel bone is a very common occurrence, causing heel pain during walking or running. It can be a very persistent condition and one that is difficult to resolve completely, despite visits to the family doctor, physiotherapist or podiatrist. An assessment and subsequent management of the foot’s windlass mechanism is essential to optimize success in recovery.