Let's Talk About Shanks

Let’s talk about shanks, baby.
Let’s talk about feet and knees.
Let’s talk about torque and external rotation that may be.

Let's talk about shanks.
Let’s talk about shanks!

If you grew up in the 80s and early 90s, you’re welcome for the earworm!

Anyway, what the heck are shanks? Technically speaking, they’re the portion of the leg between the knee and ankle - basically the lower leg. And they’re really key to understanding lower body health and function.

Did you know that the shanks can become torqued, which means that the bones of the lower legs rotate relative to one another? The shanks can also rotate relative to the femurs (thigh bones). In particular, most of us have too much shank external rotation (think toes pointing outward).

Both this torque and external rotation can happen passively, due to postural and movement compensations caused by tension in the feet and shin muscles, as well as weakness in the hips. You can also rotate the shanks actively, but only if the knee is bent. (Watch this video for a cool shank rotation evaluation and exercise.)

WHy do I care if my shanks are torqued and/or externally rotated?

It matters a lot for the joints related to the shank - most directly, the knees and ankles. The joints in the feet, as well as the hips, also take a beating if the shanks aren’t oriented how they should be. (See, you don’t actually need this blog post. Just remember those lyrics above and you’ve got all you need to know about shanks.)

The knee is a basically a hinge joint, which means that it should be opening and closing (like the hinges on a door) from front to back with every step. The ankle has a wider range of motions available, but it should be doing something similar while you walk.

Ideally the shank would be in line with the femur, and these hinges would be working in the sagittal (front to back) plane. However, when you torque the shank or rotate it relative to the femur, the hinges get moved out of alignment and are working in different directions. This creates wear and tear in these joints, and can eventually lead to pain and injury.

The same goes for the 33 (!!!) joints in each foot. Bunions, anyone? You can probably thank your shanks, at least in part. Even the hips get pulled into the picture, literally, when there’s foot tension involved...which there most likely is!

Fix Your Shanks

Start mobilizing your shanks with the exercise and myofascial release technique in this video.

Keep in mind, this can be a very slow process, especially if the bones themselves have changed shape. However, the more you’re mindful of these movements, the more benefit you’ll gain, even if the progress isn’t visible at first.