Ankle sprains rank among the top five injuries for tennis players; yet most players walk on to the court without ever doing any prep work for their feet and ankles beyond making sure their shoe laces have been tied!
The foot and ankle is a complex region with many joints, bony structures, ligaments and muscles. It functions as a base that supports the rest of the body. It provides adequate flexibility to act as a shock absorber for the body as well as being able to accommodate uneven terrain. It also acts as a lever during the push-off phase of walking.
Having a good foundation in your feet, leads the way for structural integrity in the body creating the infrastructure for technical accuracy resulting in proficiency in your performance. Whatever is going on in the foot transfers through the body in a kinetic chain response. The kinetic chain is defined as segments of the body that are linked together and the movement in one segment directly affects the other segments. So, if your foot is rigid it will often cause the muscles of the lower leg to stiffen and so on up your body. Over the course of time, imbalances begin to develop leading to poor technique, increased risk of injury and poor performance!
In more recent years, the study of the fascial system (one continuous structure of connective tissue enclosing the muscles and organs from head to toe) has made huge headway in helping us understand the body specific to it’s restrictions caused by trauma (both physical and emotional) scarring and/or inflammation. This creates a rigidity which we feel as tightness and stiffness.
To aid in releasing the tension in the muscles of your feet, here are some techniques you can practice.
Preparation: Take your shoes off. Get a slightly used tennis ball (as you progress, you can use a lacrosse ball or a golf ball).
Begin by just stepping down on the tennis ball in the center of your arch. You will want to apply a moderate amount of pressure — Never to the point of pain. Be sure to exhale as you step down on the ball with one foot.
Applying an even amount of pressure, roll the ball lengthwise along your foot from heel to toe. You can follow the line of each of your five toes; be sure to use your exhale to help release any tension you might be holding in the body.
Roll each foot for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. There is no perfect length of time and you will discover how much time is needed the more you practice.
You can also place the ball at the beginning of your heal, just behind your arch; with even pressure move the ball from left to right keeping the ball of your foot on the ground. If you find a spot that is quite tender, stop on the trigger point and hold until you feel it release under the ball.
Your breath plays a significant roll in assisting the body in releasing tension, so be sure to exhale!
Off Court Techniques
In the evenings when you are home, watching tv — showered of course 😉— I give you permission to play with your feet!
Massage one foot with both hands.
Take your fingers and wiggle them between your toes.
See if you can take your left hand and place four of your fingers between your toes from the bottom side of your foot. If you have never done this before, I recommend you starting off with just your pinky finger and wiggle it in-between each toe, one at a time.
As you practice, the toes will begin to open up, and you will be able to get all your fingers through your toes and then even wiggle the toes back and forth and in a circular motion.
By practicing these two techniques on a regular basis, you will begin to release some of the rigidity in your feet which will reduce your risk of injury and you will see improvement in your performance as you move around the court with ease.