Fun fact about me as a Physical Therapist: the foot is my favorite body part to treat. I know, you aren’t supposed to play favorites, but there is just something so special and fascinating about the 26 bones, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles that make up the foundation of our bipedal motion (NERD ALERT).
So, you can only imagine my joy when I discovered a tool that helped me teach patients and athletes how to properly engage the foot with the ground.
Introducing: the MOBO board.
The MOBO board is a balance board that is specifically designed to encourage good single leg foot mechanics. What separates it from other balance boards or balance cushions is that there is a cutout in the board so that you cannot use your toes for balance or stability. The balance mechanism of the board mimics the axis of movement of your subtalar joint, the one that produces pronation and supination. This challenges the foot through a specific range of motion and specific direction, in the way that is needed to control the thousands upon thousands of steps we take during a long run. This differs from other balance tools, where the direction of challenge is random.
To explain the cutout further, we first need to understand the foot tripod and why it’s important for foot stability and therefore dynamic movement. The idea of the foot tripod is that there are three major points of contact between the foot and the ground, and ideally we have equal weight through all three to be maximally stable. These points are located under the big toe joint, 5th metatarsal joint, and heel.
A very common balance strategy is to “grip” with the toes, which bipasses the big toe grounding point of our tripod. The MOBO board takes away this option, forcing your foot to use your big toe with the nice little platform you can see here.
I know what you’re thinking– why is this “tripod” thing important for me as a runner?
Utilizing the foot tripod helps to maximally engage your intrinsic foot muscles, which are like the “core” muscles of the foot. You may be familiar with this idea of a strong core being important to avoid overusing the larger back muscles and preventing back pain, and it is the same case in the foot. The intrinsic muscles are muscles that have attachments and insertions in the foot, meaning that they do not span up into the lower leg. This differs from extrinsic muscles, which have muscle bellies in the lower leg and long tendons that act on the foot in a “puppet-like” manner. Simply put, the stronger your intrinsics are, the less you’ll use your extrinsics, which when overused can cause common injuries such as tibialis posterior tendinitis, shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, and calf strains.
Another benefit of the foot tripod is that it helps us engage our hip muscles. When we have good control of the foot, we can actually use our hips for stability– meaning that we can train the hip rotators and deep stabilizers appropriately. If you are unable to stabilize through the foot, all of those single leg exercises that are meant to target the hips will be limited by your foot’s balance strategy and your leg will likely tire out before your hips. I love using the MOBO board on a weekly basis, but the real benefit is the ability to feel that foot tripod so that you can translate it to exercises performed on solid ground.
We get a lot of power from pushing off of the big toe segment during running gait. This is because it creates a linear line of force from which to use the rest of the leg. In contrast, if a runner pushes off the ground with the other four toes, there is a twisting motion that occurs through the foot, lower leg, and up to the hip. This is far less efficient and can place strain on tendons, muscles, and bones, because the tissues of our body are designed to handle linear forces. The big toe platform of the MOBO helps to strengthen this mechanism by not allowing any other strategy.
I hope this helps demystify the MOBO board and why it can be a really helpful tool if you’ve been struggling with foot and lower leg injuries. I think it’s a great tool to have and it’s easy to use at home. Be on the lookout for some of my favorite uses for the MOBO in my next blog!
Here is the MOBO board website to learn more: https://www.moboboard.com
Keep going, you’ve got this!
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT