The first thing I look for in a ski boot I am considering is a shaft with sufficient stiffness to create a defined oval shape that will accommodate 14-15 degrees of lead segment low resistance ankle flexion before firm contact of my shank with the front of the shaft occurs. Because my shank is free to move fore and aft up to 14-15 degrees within the shaft, I tend to be acutely aware of what the tongue is doing on my shin. This is much harder to sense in boots with flexible shaft overlap segments that won’t assume a defined shape and especially in a boot with the shaft buckles and power strap cinched tight. When I took my Head World Cup boots out of the box and put them on I immediately sensed the tongue pressing firmly against the base of my shank. This was before I even tried to dorsiflex my ankle (rotate my shank forward). The curve of the transition of the tongue felt like a block pushing against the base of my shank.
Most plastic tongues amount to bent half tubes. One of the stiffest shapes known is a tube. When the trailing edges of a ski boot tongue are loaded by the leading edges of the boot liner and the curved interface of the boot shaft, the shank portion of the tongue becomes substantially rigid. When the shank presses against the tongue it bends at its transition with the forefoot portion. When it bends, the curve at the transition flattens and the tongue body moves rearward towards the shank. Unless the tongue is sewn to the toe box of the liner so it is too far forward, it can press on the lower end of the shank and block the glide path of the ankle joint. Here is a simulation of what happens. The black line represents the profile of the tongue.
This issue was identified in my US No. 4,534,122 and in a series of X-ray video studies done by Professor M. Pfeiffer (Kinematics of the Foot in the Ski Boot – The Shoe in Sport). In the Type C study Dr. Pfeiffer observed that, among other things, the physiologic function of the ankle is stopped prematurely (blocked) with the effect that the talus (the bone that forms the ankle joint with the tibia) is levered backward and upward within the boot shell. The previous short video clip and the clip that follows below show this effect. If you pause the videos before and after shank loading you can see the extent of the effect of the tongue bending at the transition and pressing against the base of the shank. The flattening effect at the transition is due to the manner in which the stiffness of the half tube shape of the tongue influences the deformation.
Note how the foot is forced backward in the boot and the entire forefoot lifts off the boot board. This effect is easy to demonstrate with foot pressure technology by having the subject apply firm pressure to the balls of the feet and then flex the boot. As boot flex progresses, the pressure seen on the monitor under the balls of the feet will progressively decrease then disappear. The reason for this is that ski boots are flexed by decreasing the contraction of the soleus muscle. This has the effect of turning off the connection of the tibia with the balls of the feet. In his article, Dr. Pfeiffer stresses the importance of the forces on the shank in the fore aft plane being the result of active muscle participation and tonic muscular tension and that if muscular function is inhibited in the ankle area, greater loads will be placed on the knee. Tonus in a muscle is a reflex state where the muscle is primed and ready to rapidly respond to a neural signal to contract.
In my next post I will discuss the modifications I make to my boot tongue to try and minimize ankle glide path block.