Effects of a 4-Week Intrinsic Foot Muscle Exercise Program on Motor Function: A Preliminary Randomized Control Trial

Context: Intrinsic foot muscle (IFM) exercises are utilized clinically in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions. However, the effectiveness of training on IFM motor function is unknown. Objective: To study the effects of a 4-week IFM exercise program on motor function, perceived difficulty, and IFM motor activation measured using ultrasound imaging (USI) during 3 IFM exercises. Design: Single-blinded randomized control trial. Setting: Laboratory. Participants: A total of 24 healthy, recreationally active young adults without history of ankle-foot injury who have never performed IFM exercises participated (12 males and 12 females; mean age = 21.5 [4.8] y; body mass index = 23.5 [2.9] kg/m2) Intervention: Following randomization, participants allocated to the intervention group received a 4-week progressive home IFM exercise program performed daily. Participants in the control group did not receive any intervention. Main Outcome Measures: Clinician-assessed motor performance (4-point scale: 0 = does not initiate movement and 3 = performs exercise in standard pattern), participant-perceived difficulty (5-point Likert scale: 1 = very easy and 5 = very difficult), and USI motor activation measures (contracted measurementresting measurement) of the abductor hallucis, flexor digitorum brevis, quadratus plantae, and flexor hallucis brevis were assessed during toe-spread-out, hallux-extension, and lesser-toe-extension exercises. Results: The intervention group demonstrated significant improvement in motor performance in the toe-spread-out exercise (pre = 1.9 [0.5], post = 2.6 [0.5], P = .008) and less perceived difficulty in the toe-spread-out (pre = 3.1 [1.3], post = 2.3 [1.2], P = .01), hallux-extension (pre = 3.2 [1.5], post = 2.0 [1.2], P = .005), and lesser-toe-extension (pre = 1.9 [0.7], post = 1.2 [0.4], P = .03) exercises. Both groups demonstrated increased USI motor activation in the abductor hallucis during the toe-spread-out exercise (intervention: pre = 1.07 [0.06], post = 1.11 [0.08] and control: pre = 1.08 [0.06], post = 1.11 [0.06]; P = .05). No other significant main effects or group by time interactions were observed. Conclusion: A 4-week IFM exercise intervention resulted in improved motor performance and decreased perceived difficulty when performing the exercises, but not changes in USI measures of IFM activation compared with a control group.

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