Put Your Best Foot Forward
While I originally wrote this back in 2016, it bears repeating as we start the summer fun-shoe wearing months!
I find myself in many sessions talking with clients about their feet and the impact of their feet on the rest of their body. Unless our feet start screaming at us with every step we take, we tend to not pay too much attention to the little platforms we stand, balance, walk, run, hop, skip, and jump on. It is only then that we start to give a lot of attention through orthotics, stretches, strengthening, and bodywork, to get our feet back to a pain-free state.
I am most certainly guilty of waiting until something hurts before addressing it. Which, when I do, it always takes longer to “get back” to where I want and need to be physically. For example, I know core strength is critical, but it isn’t until I tweak my low back, that I know I need to get back in the consistent habit of exercising my core. Our feet are no different. It isn’t until we have acute plantar fasciitis, a heel spur, hammer toes, etc., that we recognize we need to be taking better care of our feet. And it never feels good to start that rehab process when there has been an injury and the body is in an acute state with inflammation and trying to heal.
Let’s face it, we are hard on our feet. They take a beating each and every day. What we don’t typically think about is how the state of our feet impacts the rest of our body. Think about it, if your feet are hurting with every step you take, causing you to adjust your foot position and gait, imagine how that compensation reverberates up the rest of your body through your knees, hips, back, shoulders, and lastly your neck and head. Could that chronic neck and shoulder pain you are experience be connected to dysfunction in your feet? It most certainly is related–at least on some level.
These Boots Were Made For Walking
How could I write on the topic of feet and not at least hit on footwear for a moment! I just heard all the women reading this article let out a huge sigh saying to themselves, “great, now she is going to tell me I have to get rid of all my super cute and sassy shoes.” And honestly, you might need to get rid of some of your shoes, or at least minimize the time you spend in your wedges, heels, and flip-flops. Guys, you aren’t off the hook either. While you may not be wearing wedges and high heels, some of your shoes may be jeopardizing the healthy function of your feet. Men and woman alike enjoy their flip flops! The good news is there have been vast improvement in the production of attractive shoes that also provide good support for your feet.
Now why am I saying all of this? With wedges and high heels, the farther off the ground your foot is, the more difficult it is to have a strong sense of grounding and stability throughout the whole body. Not to mention the stress points that are created the higher the heel is as your body weight is poised precariously over the ball of your feet. This not only stresses the feet, but your body has to adjust accordingly in order to keep you upright.
A picture is worth a thousand words….The below picture demonstrates how the body has to adjust in order to stay upright while wearing heels. The body weight is pulled forward, the front of the ankles shorten, knees bend, shortening the hamstrings, the pelvis tips anteriorly, and the entire spine compresses and the muscles on the back of the body pull to keep the body upright against the pull of gravity. Makes your body ache just looking at it, doesn’t it?!
Another way of looking at it–just look at the difference between the x-rays below–one barefoot, one in high heels. The bones shift to account for the displacement of your weight in heels, creating strain on the big toe joint which oftentimes leads to bunions, and you can even see that the bones in the feet can rotate and buckle.
Does this mean we need to walk around barefoot all the time? Well, no, not ALL the time, but many of us would benefit from spending more time barefoot. Another option is investing in good minimalist shoes that allow your foot to function more fully, the way it was designed to move and support the rest of your structure.
And since some people don’t wear heels, this one is for you. The beloved flip-flop. Even I love to wear them in the summer, although I tend to pay the price afterwards in my hips and low back.
Because a flip-flop is not fully secured to the foot as you walk, something has to happen in order to keep the shoe on your foot. What happens to the foot, and your body, when you wear flip-flops? I am glad you asked….One, your toes have to become more actively involved to grip in order to keep the shoe on the foot. Two, your gait is impacted with shorter strides and your ankles collapse inwardly. Three, because there is usually limited arch support and no ankle support with flip-flops, you are more susceptible to twisting your ankles, straining the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot, experiencing hip and lower back pain, and much more. Without the covering and protection of a full shoe, you are also susceptible to stubbing toes, stepping on something like a nail that can penetrate the sole of the shoe, and your foot (ouch!), and bacteria and infection.
Now that I have completely ruined your flip-flop experience, I will say one thing, since I know you are reluctant to throw out all your flip-flops. Not all flip-flops are created equal. There are the cheapy flip-flops that you can roll, bend, fold every which way…and then there are the more durable well-constructed flip-flops with sturdier soles and established arch support. While my above scare tactic (hopefully it worked!) with all the downside of flip-flops still applies, if you are going to still wear flips-flops, at least invest in a better pair that will offer better support and protection to your feet. And where you can and are willing–explore sandals that have better support with a strap around your ankle, ensuring the shoe is in contact with your foot continually. I promise it won’t crimp your cute and sassy summer style and you might even notice pain points in your feet, knees, hips, back, neck and shoulders dissipate!
Lastly, I am not going to tell you to throw out all your favorite shoes, but I am going to encourage you to limit your time spent in heels and flip-flops. They should not be worn for long periods of time, and definitely not day in and day out. In wearing these types of shoes, you will want to take even better care of your feet, so the following are tips that are helpful in maintaining healthy feet….which influences health in the rest of your body.
How Can I Take Better Care Of My Feet?
- Spend more time barefoot, allowing your feet to open, stretch, breathe, and more fully move without the restriction of shoes.
- Massage your feet, or get a loved one, or your favorite Rolfer™ to work out the tension in your feet. There are many nerve endings in your feet and palpating, rubbing, and removing adhesions in the feet will improve the body as a whole. And it just feels amazing!
- Oh the many uses of a tennis ball! Tennis balls are cheap and can provide so many great uses for self-care. The fascia on the bottom of the foot connects all the way up to the top of your head. In taking a few minutes to roll your feet on a tennis ball, you will not only be helping to open up the tissue on the bottom of the foot, but you will be influencing the openness of your whole back body–up the back of your legs, low back, on up to your shoulders, neck, and head. Don’t believe me? Here is a little test you can do. Bend forward and reach towards the floor touching your toes. Maybe you get there, maybe you don’t. Now, take a few minutes to roll both feet on a tennis ball. After completing this, bend forward and reach towards your toes a second time. Did you get further than the first time?
- Stretch, baby, stretch! I really don’t think you can ever stretch too much. I am sure it is possible, but most people don’t run the risk of being too flexible!
You are probably familiar with the traditional calf stretch pictured below. This is great for getting the back of the lower leg and bottom of the foot.
An area we tend not to stretch is the front and top of the foot, but it can get really tight with all the walking and standing we do, as well as the shoes we wear. This is such an exquisite stretch–you will thank me after you try it!
You might even have some of your favorite stretches for your feet, so do them.
I hope you are motivated from this article to spend a little extra tender loving care on your tootsies! Your feet, and whole body, will thank you.