Intrinsic Foot Muscle Activation During Specific Exercises: A T2 Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

J Athl Train. 2016 Aug;51(8):644-650. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-51.10.07. Epub 2016 Oct 3.


Context: The intrinsic foot muscles maintain the medial longitudinal arch and aid in force distribution and postural control during gait. Impaired intrinsic foot-muscle function has been linked to various foot conditions. Several rehabilitative exercises have been proposed to improve it; however, literature that identifies which individual muscles are activated during specific intrinsic foot-muscle exercises is lacking.

Objective: To describe changes in activation of the intrinsic plantar foot muscles after 4 exercises as measured with T2 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Design: Descriptive laboratory study.

Setting: Research laboratory.

Patients or other participants: Eight healthy National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I collegiate cross-country and track athletes (5 men and 3 women: age = 20 ± 0.93 years, height = 180.98 ± 10.84 cm, mass = 70.91 ± 7.82 kg).

Intervention(s): Participants underwent T2 MRI before and after each exercise. They completed 1 set of 40 repetitions of each exercise (short-foot exercise, toes spread out, first-toe extension, second- to fifth-toes extension).

Main outcome measure(s): Percentage increases in muscle activation of the abductor hallucis, flexor digitorum brevis, abductor digiti minimi, quadratus plantae, flexor digiti minimi, adductor hallucis oblique, flexor hallucis brevis, and interossei and lumbricals (analyzed together) after each exercise were assessed using T2 MRI.

Results: All muscles showed increased activation after all exercises. The mean percentage increase in activation ranged from 16.7% to 34.9% for the short-foot exercise, 17.3% to 35.2% for toes spread out, 13.1% to 18.1% for first-toe extension, and 8.9% to 22.5% for second- to fifth-toes extension. All increases in activation had associated 95% confidence intervals that did not cross zero.

Conclusions: Each of the 4 exercises was associated with increased activation in all of the plantar intrinsic foot muscles evaluated. These results may have clinical implications for the prescription of specific exercises to target individual intrinsic foot muscles.

Keywords: medial longitudinal arch; muscle functional magnetic resonance imaging; short-foot exercise; toes spread out.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Foot / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Young Adult