We all think of the movement at our feet happening in a straight line, along the line of the bend of the ankle. But in healthy walking there is a rotational movement at the foot as well, with the midfoot rolling down and into pronation and then up and out into supination.
Pronation has got a bit of a bad rep in recent times, with running shoe companies selling shoes that will prevent pronation. But it is not the movement of pronation that is bad in and of itself. What is unhealthy is over-pronating so that the foot essentially collapses, or being stuck in pronation (collapsed arches) so that the foot doesn’t move rotationally at all. Just as unhealthy is being stuck in supination (excessively high arches).
Pronation and supination are part of the normal chain reaction of gait, where the body’s interaction with the ground and gravity (don’t ask me to explain the physics!) means that the foot should roll in – pronation – as you land on the ground and then roll out – supination – as you push off from the ground. You can’t consciously make these things happen as you walk, they are simply the foot’s reaction to the ground below and the body above. But if your foot is not able to move in and out of supination or pronation when you are trying to make it happen, it is extremely unlikely that it is happening properly when you walk. And if it’s not happening properly, you are compromising the structures further up the chain of your body – your knees, hips, spine, possibly even your shoulders.
Try these simple assessments to see if your feet move when you rotate:
If you think your feet are lacking sufficient movement, encourage more of this pronation/supination movement through your feet with some massage and gentle exercises (courtesy of James Earls (Anatomy Trains) and Joanne Elphinston (JEMS):
If you always walk in shoes with rigid soles you are limiting the normal rotational movements of your feet, which can result in stiff, painful, unhealthy feet. And remember, you can’t consciously make this pronation/supination happen when you are walking – it is a mechanical response in your bony and soft tissue structures to the interaction between your body and the ground.
Have a look at the Foot Mobility post if you haven’t already. And if you feel you are stuck in pronation, How to stand with good posture.
When an area of the body has restricted movement the flow of blood (supplier of nutrition in the form of oxygen), lymph (remover of waste) and electricity (nervous impulse) is restricted, leading to unhealthy tissue with poor cellular regeneration. Many peoples’ toes have dramatically restricted movement, thanks to a lifetime of wearing shoes.
Our toes should be pretty mobile. They are not supposed to be stuck rigidly on the ends of our feet, nor should they sit all bunched together. They should rest comfortably apart and should have movement independent of the rest of the foot and some movement independent of each other.
Yet many people’s toes are almost immobile, and sometimes they are so scrunched up that one toe has to sit on top of another. The big toe is often angled in with a bunion bulging out on the inside of the big toe joint. Not only is this ugly, it can end up being extremely painful. Painful to the point of needing surgery to correct the bone malformation.
Practising a bunion busting routine can stop the rot and perhaps even improve ugly and painful feet…. This is my routine, I aim to practise it every day.
I have also started using CorrectToes toe separators. They are much softer than they look and are comfortable enough to walk around in all day (as long as you have a shoe with a wide toe box). Check out https://correcttoes.com
if you are interested.
The black bits in between my first and second toes are inserts – you can make the spacer bigger as your toes adapt to their new position.
And speaking of shoes with a wide toe box – are your shoes damaging your toes? Check out my Shoe Rant