I’ve written a lot about feet recently because our feet are hugely important to our health and well-being. They are our foundations, and, as with all vertical structures, if the foundations aren’t sound the structures above are at risk.
Even if your feet don’t hurt, they may be causing pain or dysfunction elsewhere in your body. Immobility and/or poor alignment of your feet can lead to knee problems, sacro-iliac joint dysfunction, low back pain, shoulder problems, neck ache, even cardiovascular strain: if the vascular (blood vessel) part of your cardiovascular system isn’t functioning to it’s optimum capacity – which it won’t be if you are not in good alignment – the cardio part (your heart) has to do more work.
So what can you do to improve your foundations?
Go barefoot as often as you can
Wear shoes that give your feet room to breathe (see Shoe Rant)
Get your pelvis over your heels (see How To Stand With Good Posture)
Mobilise your feet (see Foot Mobility)
Address your mid-foot (see Rotational Feet)
And your toes (see Toes Waving)
Activate your arches in standing
We could all do with better foot mobility. A few minutes a day of stretching and moving your feet will do them the world of good. Our feet are our foundations and if they aren’t healthy – pliant, mobile responders to the ground below us and to the movement coming down from the body above – they can be the source of a great deal of pain further up in the knees or hips or spine (see Warning! Your feet are your foundation).
Rolling your feet on the ball will help release the fascial connective tissue on the base of your foot, allowing all the muscles and tendons and ligaments of your foot and your calf to breathe a little. It will also bring blood flow to the area, encouraging the flowing in of nutrients and the removal of waste at the tissue level. Since the body is made up of long chains of connective tissue that run the length of the body, this rolling can have a benefit for your whole system.
Stretching your calves will start to reverse the effects of wearing shoes with a heel (even a small one has a negative impact) and allow more movement at your ankle.
The listening foot exercise encourages the rotational mobility of your foot that is lost through wearing rigid-soled shoes and walking on pavement and solid floors all the time.
The toe stretches will encourage better alignment to an area of the body that is sorely neglected (even if you have had a pretty pedicure – although those toe separators that they use will have done you good, pinch them next time you have a pedicure and slip them between your toes while you are watching tv at home for a lazy stretch session).
All of these exercises will encourage more blood, lymph and electrical (nervous impulse) flow to your feet, leading to healthier, happier, less wanting-to-hurt-you-as-you-get-older feet.
We all think of the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding as cruel and barbaric. Yet we think nothing of squeezing our feet into pointy-toed, high-heeled, painful shoes – ladies, I’m talking to you here (and holding up my hand as a bit of a hypocrite) – on a regular basis, purely for the aesthetic value. Gentlemen, you are almost as badly treated, with rigid-soled, narrow shoes that prevent healthy movement. We may as well be binding our feet Chinese-style when we see what the results can be a few decades down the line.
Our feet have more bones and joints in them than we have in the rest of our bodies. They are designed to be both strong and pliant: mobile responders to the ground below them and to the movement coming down from the body above, significant players in every step that is taken. And significant players in the health of the body standing on them: knee, hip and back complaints are often a response to poor biomechanics at the foot.
Most of us – thanks to our culture’s practice of binding our feet from the moment we start walking – have planks on the ends of our legs. Often quite mangled planks. Our feet are rigid blocks that move as one piece from the ankle, and even then not very much from the ankle. Our toes are scrunched together when they should sit comfortably apart, and they should be able to move independently of the rest of the foot and of each other. The mid-foot is locked down when it should be able to move in and out of pronation and supination. Most of us, luckily, can still bend at the ankle, but, thanks to wearing shoes with a heel (even a low heel, like a man’s work shoe), we are often restricted even in this bending movement.
How to address this? The first step is to give your feet some room to breathe. I’m not advocating throwing out your entire wardrobe of shoes, but try to spend more time barefoot. Wear flat shoes with a softer, flexible sole and a wide toe-box (which is just what it sounds like, the area around your toes) whenever you can. Vivobarefoot shoes are a good example. Avoid flip-flops or any other shoe that doesn’t attach itself around your foot properly (around the back of your heel), otherwise you have to clench your foot to keep the shoe on, encouraging hammer toes and shortening of the intrinsic muscles of your feet.
Yes, I know that a pointy toe is pretty and those wide toe-box shoes are really not, but you don’t have to wear them when you go out on a date. And think about what happens when you take your shoes off – often not a pretty sight. Have you ever had a look at your granny’s feet? Or your grandfather’s? I bet they were ugly as sin and hurt like hell….
Step two on the path to healthier feet: getting your feet to move. Have a look at Foot Mobility for some ideas.