Plantar flexion is a tendency in which the top of your foot points away from your leg. For example, you use plantar flexion whenever you stand on the tip of your toes.
Each person’s natural range of movement in this position is usually different. This is because several muscles control the plantar flexion.
Any injury to these muscles can limit the range of movement and affect your ability to do activities that require plantar flexion.
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What activities involve this flexion?
You use plantar flexion when:
- You’re stretching, or you point your foot away.
- When you stand on your tiptoes, like when you’re trying to reach on a high shelf.
- When you press down on the brake of your car.
- When you ballet dance on the tips of your toes.
You also use plantar flexion of the foot while walking, running, swimming, dancing, and riding a bicycle to a lesser degree.
To learn more, you can read: Sciatic Nerve Dermatome
Plantar flexion of foot
The plantar muscle runs below both the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles to connect with the heel bone. This muscle works with the Achilles’ muscle to flex the ankle and knee joints, allowing people to stand on their toes and point their feet in plantar flexion.
5 plantar flexors of the foot
- The tibial nerve (L4–S2)
- The gastrocnemius or soleus muscles which are the main plantar flexors of the foot
- The tibialis posterior (plantarflexion and inversion)
- The flexor digitorum longus (plantar flexor and toe flexor)
- The flexor hallucis longus (plantar flexor and great toe)
Foot flexion and extension
Plantar flexion refers to the extension or flexion of the foot at the ankle. These terms refer to flexion in the direction of the “back” of the foot, which is the upper surface of the foot when flexion in the direction of the sole.
Plantar flexion specifies the ankle extension so that the foot leads down and away from the leg. When you are in a standing position, point your foot towards the floor.
Plantar flexion of toes
Standing on the tiptoes to reach a high shelf is plantar flexion of toes. Ballet dancers who dance on their tiptoes have an extreme range of motion in their plantar flexion.
The flexor muscle is located on the tibial side of the leg. It is thin and pointed at its origin, but it gradually increases in size as it falls. It serves to flex the second, third, fourth, and fifth toes.
Ankle plantarflexion muscles
The role of soleus and gastrocnemius is to produce plantar flexion at the ankle joint. Their actions lift us off the ground when we stand on tiptoe.
Which muscle is the prime mover causing plantar flexion of the ankle?
It’s one of the main muscles involved in ankle plantar flexion. It moves down the back of your lower leg, behind your knee, to the Achilles tendon in your heel.
The soleus muscle also plays a significant role in ankle plantar flexion.
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What happens if the muscles are injured?
An injury to any muscles that support plantarflexion can limit your ability to flex your foot or stand on tiptoe. Ankle injuries, such as fractures and sprains, are the common causes of plantar flexion problems.
These conditions can happen in sports where you have to change direction quickly, such as basketball or jumping quickly.
When you injure the muscles of your ankles, then that area swells up and becomes inflamed. The swelling limits flexion. Depending on how severity level of the injury, you might not be able to stand on your tiptoes until it heals.
What treatment options are available?
Mild ankle sprains are usually can be treated with the following method:
- Don’t put weight on the injured ankle. Use crutches to help you walk until the injury heals.
- Cover an ice pack with a thin cloth and hold it on the injured area for about 20 minutes at a time. The cold will slow down the swelling, so use ice for the first 48 hours after an injury.
- Place an elastic bandage on your injured ankle. This will also help reduce swelling.
- Prop up your injured ankle on a pillow to raise it above the level of the heart. Elevating the injury will help minimize swelling.
Sprains are usually healed within a few days or weeks. If the ankle is fractured, you should wear a cast. More serious fractures require surgery to reposition the broken bone. Surgeons use a plate or screws to hold the bone in place while it heals.
How to prevent injury?
- Stretching the muscles of your ankle, leg, and foot will keep your foot flexible, protect your ankle, and prevent future injuries.
- Wear proper footwear can also help you avoid injuries.
- Avoid high heels or narrow heels that don’t properly support your ankle.
- See your orthopedic surgeon for advice on keeping your feet and ankles healthy and preventing any plantar flexion problems.
Foot exercises to try at home
Keeping your feet strong and flexible will help to reduce foot and ankle pain, reduce muscle soreness.
Following exercises can help to improve your foot health, including:
- Toe raise, point, and curl
- Toe splay
- Toe extension
- Toe curls
- Marble pickup
- Big-toe stretch
- Tennis ball roll
- Achilles stretch
- Sand walking
These exercises can relieve your heel and arch pain, and even prevent hammertoes and stop toe cramps.
Plantar flexion is a natural movement of healthy feet, and any pain or interruption due to plantar flexion may indicate a medical problem.
Plantar flexion also occurs during everyday actions like walking, running, and stretching—anything that requires the foot to flex out and down.
Foot eversion treatment options generally include custom orthotics, braces, or shoe inserts; however, the most common foot eversion treatment is physical therapy.
Physical therapy is important to improve both the flexibility and strength of your foot and ankle muscles.
Suggested read: Knee Flexion Exercises
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