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.
We have lost the ability, as a culture, to stand well. Esther Gokhale, in her interesting book ‘8 Steps to a Pain-free Back’ posits that this is due to a loss of kinaesthetic cultural tradition and to the influence of the fashion industry at the turn of the 20th century. Whatever the reason, most of us don’t stand well and don’t even know what cues to give our bodies when we try to stand well.
Why do we need good posture? Good posture promotes healthy breathing, healthy joints, healthy blood and lymph flow, healthy nervous impulse relay…. Which means, of course, that bad posture encourages restricted breathing (poor oxygen intake), wear and tear to joints (pain), poor blood and lymph flow (reduced nutrient supply to and waste removal from our cells), poor nervous impulse relay (loss of awareness, restricted movement). All of which can lead to poor cardiovascular health, poor cell regeneration (ie aging of tissues), osteoarthritis, joint replacements…. And of course we all look fatter when we slouch. No wonder your mother told you to stand up straight!
The typical posture is with the pelvis swayed forwards over the feet. This is often accompanied by a tucked pelvis and a tilted ribcage. To counterbalance all of that, the head juts forwards.
Doesn’t look very good, does it?
We often try to correct our bad posture by pulling our shoulders back and sticking our chests out. This just imposes another unhealthy posture onto the first one. Instead we need to think about where the pelvis sits in relation to the feet, and then try to have a spine that lengthens evenly up from there.
To check out your own posture, get a friend to take a side-on photo of you or have a look side-on in a mirror. Drop an imaginary line from the mid-point of your hip to your foot. That line should land on your ankle bone. If it lands forward of your ankle bone (and it probably will!) you need to bring your pelvis back in line. And then line everything up above it too – no sticking your chest out!