What is Dorsiflexion?
Dorsiflexion is made up of two words namely ‘dorsi’ and ‘flexion’. As per the Merriam-webster dictionary, Dorsi is derived from the Latin word dorsum which means back and flexion is derived from the Latin word flexiÅn which means the act of bending or flexing. Thus dorsiflexion means bending backward.
Dorsiflexion can take place in your ankle, wrist, fingers, and toes. However, we usually talk about dorsiflexion in the ankle and wrist only.
Dorsiflexion happens in the ankle of the foot and wrist of the hand. When the dorsal side of the ankle and wrist bend or flex in the backward direction it is said to be dorsiflexing.
Let’s understand dorsification with a simple example. Imagine you are doing a push-up, in a push-up your soles or feet and your hands are perpendicular to the rest of your body. For this to happen, your wrist and ankle are usually at a 90-degree angle. This is what dorsiflexion looks like.
Anatomically dorsiflexion is when the angle between the dorsal side of the feet and shin diminished. Simply saying, dorsiflexion is when the angle of your mid and forefoot (frontal part of the foot that includes the toes and area below your toes) and the front of your leg decreases.
This happens when you move your mid and forefoot in an upward direction toward your leg (like walking on your heel) or you move your shin towards the forefoot (like while walking, running, squatting, or lunging).
The average range of this angular movement due to dorsiflexion is 15 to 20 degrees, however depending upon the flexibility of the person or other factors such as injuries, muscle problems, and disability this angle may vary significantly from the average angle.
Dorsiflexion is a simple movement of the mid and forefoot and shin that decreases the angle between each other. This movement is supported by the ankle joint and some related muscles.
The ankle joint is also known as the talocrural joint. The ankle joint is a synovial joint, which is formed by 3 bones namely the Tibia and Fibula of the leg and the talus of the foot. The tibia and fibula combine and form a bracket-like socket (known as mortise) for the talus to fit in.
Also known as shin bone is responsible for bearing the most weight of the body. It involves the two most important parts of the body knees (top of the tibia) and ankle (bottom of the tibia), which are responsible for daily movements.
It is a small, thin bone on the lateral side of the lower leg. The top part of the fibula is attached to the shin bone and the bottom part is attached to the talus and shin bone. It is also attached to the heel bone.
The movement of the talus is responsible for 4 types of ankle movement namely Dorsiflexion (upward movement of the forefoot), Plantarflexion (downward movement of the forefoot), Inversion (moving the forefoot to the inner side of the body), and Eversion (moving the forefoot to the outer side of the body).
The movement of the foot is controlled by various muscles, and 3 of them are primarily responsible for dorsiflexation. These muscles are as mentioned below:
It is a type of muscle that runs in the anterior side (front) of the tibia and is attached to some of the foot bones. It also is responsible for the inversion moment of the foot.
Extensor Digitorum Longus
It is a muscle located in the anterior part of the fibula.
Extensor Hallucis Longus
It is a muscle found between the Tibialis Anterior and Extensor Digitorum Longus. It is prominently responsible for the movement of the big toe (hallux).
It is a small muscle present between the Tibialis Anterior and Extensor Digitorum Longus. It is responsible for dorsiflexion and eversion of the foot.
The group of ligaments that connects the ankle joints and holds them in place is called the deltoid ligament. The deltoid ligament is composed of 4 ligaments namely Anterior Tibiotalar Ligament, Tibiocalcaneal Ligament, Posterior Tibiotalar Ligament, and Tibionavicular Ligament.
The posterior tibiotalar ligament is responsible for controlling the level of dorsiflexion.
The anterior and posterior tibial and fibular arteries are responsible for blood supply in the muscles responsible for dorsiflexion.
The peroneal nerve is responsible for the neural response of the muscles involved in dorsiflexion. It should be kept in mind that some muscles such as gastrocnemium, soleus, and tibialis posterior, responsible for plantar flexion, also affect the dorsiflexion if the muscles are stretched, short, tightened, or damaged.
Importance Of Dorsiflexion In The Foot
You may think that the function of the dorsiflexion is very simple and not so significant, but it’s a more important and most used function of the body. Let’s know how:
- You may not realize it but when you walk, run, or climb stairs you use both dorsiflexion and plantarflexion.
- Dorsiflexion is also helpful in distributing your weight equally as and when needed to maintain body balance.
- Dorsiflexion is important in case of landing because of a jump or any abrupt movement.
- When using an uneven surface to stand, walk, or do any other stuff like climbing a mountain dorsiflexion plays a major role in accommodating to the surface such that other parts of the leg experience less strain.
What Can Hinder Dorsiflexion?
Injury in the ankle joint can limit dorsiflexion and it is the main component (tibia or shin, and talus) that is responsible for dorsiflexion. Tightness of the muscles either primarily (Tibialis Anterior, Extensor Digitorum Lingus, Extensor Hallucis Longus) or secondary (gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior) may hinder dorsiflexion.
Major injury in any part of the leg can restrict the dorsiflexion movement. These injuries may involve fracture, tendon rupture or tearing, ligament rupture or tearing sprain in the leg, or inflammation caused by any reason. Damage to the nerve supplying the blood to the necessary parts of the ankle moment can cause major hindrances in dorsiflexion.
It is often found that genetic problems can also limit dorsiflexion movement. No significant training of these muscles may also cause slight dorsiflexion problems.
Effects Of Limited Dorsiflexion
If the dorsiflexion is not smooth or is restricted for any reason, it can cause damage not only to the foot and ankle but to the knee or even the spine as more pressure is transferred to the related muscles (like gastrocnemius). The muscles can tighten or shorten due to the strain exerted on them. If this situation is left untreated it can cause severe damage or permanent damage.
Limited dorsiflexion can cause difficulty in performing daily tasks such as walking, and climbing stairs. It also becomes a hindering factor while running, squatting, and maintaining balance on an uneven surface.
Dorsiflexion limits movement and thus puts pressure on other parts of the body, when this condition is not treated the extra strain on those parts can cause pain. This pain may become severe if not attended to.
Untreated dorsiflexion can cause a change in gait movement and also loosen the strength of your feet in severe cases.
Why Should You Train Dorsiflexion?
Different individuals may want to train for different reasons some of the reasons as mentioned below:
Injury Healing: Some people encounter limited dorsiflexing movement due to any kind of injury. As this can affect their daily tasks they want to train to improve their movement.
Athlete: There are many types of athletes and all of them could be having their reason to maintain good dorsiflexion. Some may train their dorsiflexion to improve their running speed, some want to improve the stability of their leg when jumped, or train for maintaining balance.
Exercise Enthusiast: some people exercise a lot and thus for them, dorsiflexion may be very important as limited movement can put stress on other parts of the body that may cause problems in long run.
How To Improve Dorsiflexion?
If you have an existing health condition or any leg injury it is advised that you consult a doctor or physiotherapist to give you proper guidance and understanding depending upon your health condition. Anyone who wants to improve their dorsiflexion may choose any ways to train their muscles and ankle joints. You can either do some simple exercises at home or you can go to a professional who can help you in a better way. Here are some of the simple ways using which you can train your dorsiflexion:
Stretching through yoga poses can help you get used to the stretch required. Yoga poses that can train your legs like camel pose, child pose, chair pose, or poses that can train your calf and lower leg muscles are helpful.
Stretching through exercise can improve muscle movement and can also strengthen the muscles. This can be done by slowly training your muscles with exercises such as lunges and squats.
It’s often seen that for any reason the talus is moving forward too much and this can limit dorsiflexion, so using a restraining band you can train your legs such that the talus is trained to stay in position. Restraining bands can also be used to train muscle movement.
Myofascial Release (MFR)
MFR is a type of therapy that focuses on releasing the shortness or tightness of the muscles. Often time due to many reasons the muscles involved in dorsiflexion may experience tightness, shortness, or strain this therapy help in releasing that and improving the dorsiflexion.
Wrist Dorsiflexion/ Extension
The wrist can have 4 types of movement namely extension (backward movement), flexion (forward movement), adduction (movement to the pinky figure side), and abduction (movement to the thumb side). When the wrist is extended back towards the forearm it is said the dorsiflexion of the wrist is also known as the extension of the wrist. The normal wrist extension angle is 70 – 90 degrees.
It is the joint between the carpals and radius and ulna. Ulna and Radius are the bones of the forearms. This wrist joint is not as simple as it sounds. The carpals are a set of bones arranged such that it provides the base support to the metacarpal (bones supporting the figures).
The carpal is 2 layers:
- The proximal layer (closer to the ulna and radius) consists of four bones namely scaphoid, lunate, triquetral, and pisform.
- The distal layer (farther from the ulna and radius) consisting four bones namely the trapezium, trapezoid, capitates, and hamate.
There are so many tiny joints in the wrist that it can be very complex to understand the joint involvement as most of them are essential for the stability and movement of the wrist.
The radiocarpal joint is one of the most prominent joints responsible for the extension of the wrist. These joints are very flexible and very sensitive and unstable making them prone to injury.
The extension of the wrist is controlled by a group of muscles in the posterior part of the arm. This group of muscles is called the wrist extensors.
Wrist extensors are the collective group of 9 muscles in the forearm, namely the Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus (ECRL), Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB), Extensor Digitorum (ED), Extensor Digiti Minimi (EDM), Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), Extensor Indicis (EI), Extensor Pollicis Longus (EPL), Extensor Pollicis Brevis (EPB), and Abductor Pollicis Longus (APL).
These muscles are located in the compartment of the arm. There are two superficial compartments namely the superficial posterior compartment and the deep posterior compartment. The extension of the wrist is controlled by the superficial posterior compartment which includes Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus (ECRL), Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB), Extensor Digitorum (ED), and Extensor Digiti Minimi (EDM).
Muscles that control wrist extension are:
Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus (ECRL)
It is a long muscle located at the lateral side of the forearm. Primary muscle for the extension. It is also responsible for the abduction and flexion of the elbow joint. This is also an important muscle for grip as it is connected to the bone of your 2nd finger.
Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB)
It is a fibrous muscle on the lateral side of the arm. Just like the ECRL, these muscles are responsible for extension (primary muscle) and abduction of the wrist. It is the connection to the bone of your 3rd figure.
Extensor Digitorum (ED)
These muscles are on the lateral side of the arm and they separate into 4 parts to connect to the tendons of the fingers 2 – 5. It assists in the extension but its primary function of the muscle movement of the 5th digit.
The Anterior radiocarpal ligament is responsible for limiting the extension of the wrist.
The blood is supplied through the deep brachial artery and radial artery.
Radial nerve is responsible for the neural response of the muscles involved.
Importance Of Wrist Extension
We often ignore how flexible and smooth our wrist functions despite its complex structure. Wrist extension is one such function that is performed most by our body.
Motor Function: Wrist extension is an essential function for performing daily tasks, which includes gripping something, moving something, writing, typing, exercising, lifting, or even motioning something with hands.
Balancing: The wrist extension in many situations may be responsible for balancing the body.
What Can Hinder Wrist Extension?
The wrist is one of the most sensitive joints of the hand. Many things can cause hindrances in the smooth functioning of the wrist extension.
Repetitive strain on the wrist: we might not know but throughout the day our wrists are extending a lot, especially now that most people are working on the computers. Excessive stress on the wrist muscles and ligament can cause pain in the wrist leading to hindrance.
- Muscle mobility: The mobility of the muscles depends on many factors as mentioned below:
- Muscle strength: The movement of the muscles depends on their strength of them, be it to grip something or balance yourself while exercising, or play some sport. Lack of strength hinders the activity significantly
- Nervous problems: Some nerve responsible for the movement may suffer an injury, which can limit the movement and in severe cases completely stops the movement.
- Blood supply: Blood supply undoubtedly is the most important for smooth functioning and movement. Any problem in this can cause severe problems to the wrist extension.
- Injury: injuries such as wrist sprain, fracture, ligament rupture, or tear can hinder wrist extension.
Why Should You Train Wrist Extension?
Our wrists are very prone to damage if not taken care of. Normally we don’t do any heavy activities that can cause severe damage to wrist joints, muscles, or ligaments but the daily stress on them may cause a problem in long term and thus one should train their extension muscles.
For athletes and person who exercises a lot the wrist can be very sensitive and prone to injury that may cause due to,
- excessive weight pressure on them
- disturbed landing or griping using the wrist
- muscle strain can weaken the arms
Thus, for their safety and to avoid any permanent damage to the arm and wrist functioning one should train the wrist to strengthen them.
How To Improve Wrist Extension?
If you suffer some extreme pain or are not able to move your wrist at all, it is advised to consult a professional like a doctor or a physical therapist. However, if you are someone facing minor pain or want to improve your wrist extension you can do the following:
Exercise: You can train your muscles and wrist joints by doing exercises that focus on the forearm, and wrists. Keep in mind, if it hurts too much stop it as it can cause more damage, and consult a professional.
Stretching: The tension in the muscles and joints can be released by stretching. It is also advised to stretch well before doing any activity (such as exercise, playing sports, or dancing) that can put a strain on these muscles and joints to minimize or avoid the excess strain.
Myofascial Release (MFR): MFR is a type of therapy that focuses on releasing the shortness or tightness of the muscles. Often time due to many reasons the muscles involved in wrist extension may experience tightness, shortness, or strain this therapy help in releasing that and improving the movement.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Know If You Have Limited Dorsiflexion?
For foot, sit on a chair or if you are standing lift your feet above the surface, now try to lift your mid and forefoot. Another test to identify this condition, while standing move your one foot a little away from your body, now move your knee forward (in the direction where your toes are pointing).
For the wrist, put your hand on a horizontal surface palm down on the surface, and now lift your elbow such that it is perpendicular to the horizontal surface. Another test is, connect both your palms (like the Namaste sign) such that your palms are perpendicular to your forearm.
If you can’t lift, bend, or experience pain while doing these activities you might have limited dorsiflexion. Please consult your nearby expert for a better assessment.
Can Dorsiflexion Improve Running Speed?
The answer to this question is yes. Dorsiflexion is related to the movement of the mid and forefeet. When you run you constantly use dorsiflexion to move your feet faster by reducing the ground contact time. When your dorsiflexion is good, your ankle can bend more and quicker reducing the ground contact time you need. This result in a quick jump, and faster steps meaning improves speed. This undoubtedly puts a lot of pressure on the leg muscles and ankles.
Thus, to improve your speed without causing any severe injury to the muscles and ankles or any other part of the body, you must train your ankle and muscles such that they can handle the strain you put them through and maintain body balance.
What Is A Range Of Motion Test In The Ankle And Wrist?
The range of motion test is the test used to see if the joints of your body are moving in the expected range of movement for particular body parts.
For the ankle, an expert might examine if your ankle can do dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion, and eversion.
For the ankle, an expert might examine whether your extension, flexion, adduction, and abduction are as needed.
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