In this article, with the help of the video above, I want to explore one of the most important functions of the foot, the windlass mechanism.
The anatomy of the human foot is fascinating in so much as that a foot can be both flexible and mobile, and strong and rigid at different times.
In fact, even during a single walking or running stride, we need our feet to display both of these sets of properties…
At the point when your foot strikes the ground, it becomes the first part of a chain-reaction of shock-absorption. Through the load-absorbing movement of pronation, our feet display flexibility and mobility and can adapt to the terrain underfoot.
In stark contrast, from mid-to-late stance phase of your walking and running gait, your foot needs to become a rigid, more stable base, from which to push-off as you propel yourself forwards.
I recap the different stages of your running gait cycle in this previous article:
The Running Gait Cycle Made Simple – Learn the terminology!
The windlass mechanism plays a big part in enabling this dynamic change in the structure of your foot as you walk or run from stride to stride.
What is the Windlass Mechanism?
The term ‘windlass mechanism’ relates to the dynamic bow-stringing effect created by a number of important structures of the plantar aspect (underside) of the foot. This dynamic action involves the plantar fascia, sesamoid bones, plantar pads and their various attachments under the metatarsophalangeal joints.
As described in the video above; weight-bearing extension of the toes, particularly the big toe, and creates increased tension through the plantar fascia, which in turn pulls the heel bone closer to the metatarsal heads, almost like a pulley-system… hence use of the nautical term “windlass”!
If you’d like to see what happens to a runner’s form when the big toe is limited in its range of motion, check out this previous article:
How Important is Big Toe Extension in Running Gait? – It’s a great video!
The action of the windlass mechanism increases the height of the medial arch of the foot and causes the bones of the midfoot into a position where they provide a more rigid base from which we can push-off.
If you’d like to read more about the windlass mechanism and learn about the various different dysfunctions that can occur, check out this in-depth article from Craig Payne.Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.