This post is about how tongues in ski boot can affect balance.
Every ski boot has some sort of tongue. In the case of rear entry boots or liners like the Intuition, a portion of the liner acts in the capacity of a tongue. So what exactly does the tongue do? The obvious job of the tongue is to the pad the shin and spread the load applied by the shank to the front of the boot shaft.
What about the forefoot portion of the tongue over the instep of the foot? What does it do? As far as I have been able to ascertain, for most skiers, not much. Seriogram X-Ray studies done for me in 1995 found that in the boots of some skiers, there was a significant crash space between the top of the forefoot portion of the tongue and the inner surface of the boot shell. A lack of constraint or load applied to the instep of the foot of a skier means that the entire foot can float within the boot shell in response to perturbations in snow reaction force. Typically, when a skier’s CoM is perturbed, the plantar foot separates from the insole on the liner. If the skier is thrown off balance and pitches forward, the heel of the foot moves up as the foot rotates about the balls of the foot. This is an issue that the in-boot technology in my US Patent No. 4,534,122 addressed.
But ski boot tongues can do other things that you may not be aware of. The tongue can act in the capacity of a spring that opposes and progressively loads the shank in ankle flexion. Worse, it can obstruct the glide path of the ankle joint. When the now ubiquitous power strap that is present on most boots today is cinched up tight, the tongue can act as an effective splint for the ankle.
In my last post, MOMENT OF THE SHANK IN THE SHAFT, I used a simulation to show how my shank can move with little resistance from the shaft for about 14-16 degrees within the front to back free space within the shaft. In his article, Kinematics of the foot in the ski boot, Dr. M. Pfeiffer refers to this as the lead segment of shank flexion. Here is what it looks like in my Head World Cup ski boot.
The red line emanating from the fixation of the shaft of the boot indicates the proximate point about which deformation of the front of the cuff will occur. As my shank encounters the front of the shaft I want the load centre to remain substantially fixed and the resistance to predictably increase so my balance system can work with it.
The load applied by my shank is to the top edge of the front of the shaft of the boot. This is the centre of the load. The load is distributed by the tongue above and below the load centre. I like to have a little more load on my shank below the load center than above the load centre. The red arrows and bar with the dots in the photos below show this. I don’t want to have any load on my shank below the lower aspect of the load distribution.
Here is what the stock tongue from my boots looked like after I performed a tonguectomy procedure that removed it from the liner.
Here is what the tongue looks like overlaid on my ski boot.
Note the flat profile. In order for the tongue to conform to my foot and leg either my ankle has to severely plantarflex or my the tongue has to bend. I suspect that tongue is made this way to act as a sort of shank-shaft shoehorn to facilitate entry of the foot into the boot. Since I can’t stand up let alone ski with my ankle plantarflexed, the tongue has to bend. By what? By my shank applying a force to it. In this configuration the tongue is acting like a spring pushing against the shank of my leg in places where I don’t want any load.
I push on the tongue, the tongue pushes back. But it can be worse than that especially if the tongue is too far back as it was in my boots. The tongue is fixed (usually sewn) to the toe box of the liner. The first time I put my boots on (the liners were intact then) and operated the buckles it felt like a steel rod was jammed into the base of my shank. If I tried to flex my ankle I could feel that the glide path of the joint was impeded. So I would get an initial load on my shank at its base followed by a secondary load at the top of the shaft superimposed over the first load. To me, the feeling is like running up a flight of stairs and catching the toe of my lead foot on a stair nosing. I call this kind of unpredictable loading the ‘trip effect’ because it feels similar to tripping in terms of the effect on my balance.
In my next post I will discuss the tongue modifications I typically make.