Posted by Jenn F. on Thursday, July 12th, 2012
If you are someone who loves horses or grew up with a sibling who loved horses, then words with the root equine translate into certain images: horses galloping across a meadow, ponies grazing on the plains, happy foals gamboling in a meadow. Or Saturday mornings stuck waiting in a barn for your sister to finish her riding lesson and another long, boring session of horse grooming. You know what I mean.
Anyway, when I see the word “equinus” to describe a foot condition, all of those pictures flash through my mind, finally ending with the idea that this is a problem that must reduce a person to walking like a horse. Right? Let’s find out.
Does equinus mean that you walk like a horse? Not exactly–it just describes a condition where a person has limited ability to flex his or her ankle upwards. it may affect one or both ankles. Since you don’t often see horses flexing their hooves upwards, I guess you could say it makes you a little horse-like–a little.
So I can’t flex my ankle upwards. Big deal. Why should I care? It is actually a big deal. Not being able to flex your foot much will interfere with the way you walk. People with equinus will then try to make up for the limited motion by changing their walking gait, for example, by bouncing off their heels quickly, or walking mostly on their toes. While these may help with walking, they can lead to other problems in your foot, back, or legs, such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, ankle pain, metatarsalgia, or bunions.
How would I get equinus? Does it come from spending too many Saturdays at the stable watching tween girls brush horses’ manes? No, you can’t blame that, unfortunately. There are, however, many other causes. Tight calf muscles are a major culprit. Think about it–if the muscles down the back of your leg are tight, that doesn’t allow you to bend your foot up. Some people have naturally tight calf muscles; others get them from things like having their leg/foot in a cast for a while or wearing high heels too often.
Equinus can also occur if a piece of bone is lodged in the front of your ankle, preventing you from flexing upward. Sometimes it’s just an inherited condition.
How would I know I have equinus? Most people don’t know they have it–they just feel the symptoms of the associated conditions that come from compensating for equinus. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) will recognize equinus as the root of the problem while doing a full foot exam.
What do I do about it? I would like to have a foot with maximum flexibility. In most cases, the condition is treated non-surgically. A podiatrist may have you wear a night splint, which will keep your foot in a position that will relax the calf muscles. Heel lifts in your shoe can raise your heel up a bit so your calf muscles aren’t pulled down in an extreme way. Custom-fit orthotics can support your arches and provide overall stability. Calf stretching exercises can help you loosen up your calf muscles.
Surgery is rarely required, unless the problem is a bone blocking the ankle’s motion or if there’s a problem with a tendon that needs to be repaired.
Equinus may not make you run like a racehorse, but if you don’t get help for it, you can find yourself dealing with a number of other problems. You don’t want other problems, do you? I didn’t think so. If your foot has questions, get it answers!
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.