03Foot Support

3.  Foot support

 

For athletic endeavors, our feet need to be adequately supported.  Otherwise, our proprioceptive system, the balancing mechanisms of our body, and the associated feedback loops will not work properly, Any boot fitter you speak to will tell you that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread and/or Sildenafil.   They’re not.  Suffice it to say, there is a lot of snake oil out there in the marketplace.   Too bad snakes can’t ski…

Any product that has been molded to match the contours of the underside of the foot is better than nothing, as long as it does not cause pain.  Even if it is not supporting the foot adequately, it is providing more data collection points on the sole of the foot.  This will improve reaction time to whatever is underneath you, as well as to how your board is responding to your last movement, intentional or otherwise.

In order for a footbed/orthotic to be most effective in the snowboarding context, it needs to be properly contoured, and be fully and accurately posted to account for the mobility of the bones of the foot.  The statistical norm for human feet is a foot that collapses medially.  This is commonly known as pronation.  Feet that collapse laterally are in the minority, followed by feet that don’t collapse at all.  It has been my experience that the pronation, or inward collapse of the hind-foot, is caused by mobility in the forefoot, compounded by excessive mobility of the ankle joint.  The largest bone in the forefoot is the first metatarsal, which connects to the phalanges of the big toe.  As this bone deflects upwards, the arch rolls inward and downward until the deflection reaches an end, when the spaces between the bones have closed sufficiently.  Collapse of the foot in this manner uses up some, if not all, of the foot’s capacity for eversion, and consequently complicates inversion, due to leverage imbalance. Thus, under load, the joint is essentially locked and useless in the quest for balance.  The ‘lateral’ movements used for balancing must now take place in the knee joint, in combination with the femoral head in the hip socket, combined with deformation of either the boot liner or the boot-binding interface.  Range of motion is also lost due to muscle tension incurred as larger groups take up the slack caused by the failure of the blocked joints.

Proper posting of the forefoot can restore this range of motion and cancel the muscular effort used to try to bring the joint back in line.  The human body is a rather sensitive machine, and operates to a fine tolerance.  I have found that the foot is functionally sensitive to a posting change of as little as .005”.  For those of you who are not machinists, and don’t communicate in thousandths of an inch, that is about the thickness of your average strip of duct tape.  If you are fortunate, the underside of your footbed looks a lot like this:

 

To evaluate your current footbed, assuming you have one, remove yourself to a hard, flat, level surface.  Stand barefooted, head level, looking forward, arms relaxed, (if possible) at your sides. Pick up one foot.  Notice the muscular activity in the lower part of the support leg and foot, used to maintain an upright posture.  Unless you are in the top percentile of foot structure (and I doubt you are), this muscle activity will be somewhat lopsided, with a muscle group firing and then relaxing.  Try this again standing on your footbed.  If the footbed is truly supporting your foot, the muscle activity will be drastically reduced, and it should be symmetric.  Hopefully, the footbed has not made matters worse.  Without an appropriate footbed, most of the adjustment parameters in the remaining text will be approximations.

 

If you do not presently have footbeds, do not assume that the first pair you buy will be the last pair.  Philosophies on materials and construction vary immensely, as does the appearance and effectiveness of the product.  If you do not have footbeds, get a pair, learn from the experience, and then get another pair if necessary.  Write it off as an educational expense.

 

Your body will do most anything it can to remain upright and stable.  This holds regardless of muscular ‘abuse’ or threat of charging polar bears.  Therefore, if the only way your body can achieve some sense of solid footing is to fire off all the muscles in your lower extremities, then that will take place to the point of fatigue.  Much of the discomfort associated with hard-boot snowboarding, acute or chronic, can be either alleviated or eliminated with the use of properly tuned foot support and properly adjusted bindings.

A more thorough treatment of the subject can be found here:

beckmannag.com/alpine-skiing/footbeds1

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