FHL: The most important overlooked muscle in your body

Flexor Hallucis Longus Don’t look now but your Flexor Hallucis Longus is showing! That is, if you are barefoot. What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Flexor Hallucis Longus (FHL)? Why, it’s one of the most important muscles of your body. It is responsible for so much, like walking and running, jumping and skipping, signaling the butt muscles to work, turning on your abdominals and assisting in proper posture.
The FHL is located under the arch of your foot. In fact, it is one of the many muscles that help to create the arch. It originates along your fibula bone (the other lower leg bone next to your shinbone) and attaches at the base of your hallux (big toe). It is responsible for so many actions like flexing all the joints of the big toe, plantar flexing the ankle (pointing your foot), slowing down your foot as it strikes the ground, and creating a spring action to propel the body forward.

Unfortunately our society respects the beauty of the foot about as much as we respect the elderly and the infirmed. If we were in Japan I may not need to write this blog, but nevertheless, here we are.

Let’s consider one thing the FHL helps to do: create the arch of the foot. When the muscle is at it’s proper length the arch is ready for action. When the FHL is too long and in a weakened, stretched length, the arch falls and a person is considered flat-footed. When the FHL is too short and in a weakened, contracted length, the arch is too high and rigid which does not allow the foot to become a supple adapter to the environment. The key to proper movement and posture is too make the FHL like Goldilocks; not too short and not too long…just right.

Am I over reacting? Consider this: a chain reaction occurs with every step you take. The heel should strike the ground at just the right angle. The forefoot should decelerate at just the right speed following the heel strike. The foot should flatten and rotate the ankle internally causing the knee, hip, pelvis, spine, torso, shoulders, neck and head to react in a very specific manner. If the FHL is not behaving properly (due to being too long or too short) the entire chain reaction is forced to be altered from the very beginning.
The next thing that will happen is somewhere in the body compensation will be forced to occur. The teamwork of the biggest muscles surrounding the pelvis, responsible for power production, will be confused and lose ideal synchronicity. Over time this new way of moving will create irritation and inflammation. This may eventually lead to symptoms ranging from low back pain, rotator cuff problems, neck issues, knee pain, or a myriad of other complaints we seek a doctor’s, chiropractor’s, or massage therapist’s advice about. All along it was this little, unassuming muscle with the big name that few pay attention.

The takeaway from this is to be kind to your FHL and your feet. The feet are the third most densely packed places of the body with nerve endings (next to the face and hands). They are meant to tell us so much about the environment in which we live. Love that part of your body that many are embarrassed about. Do not keep them prisoner in shoes all their lives. Let them out to explore the world naked and free. Massage them. Stretch them. They will return your kindness tenfold.

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