Foot pain is the 2nd most documented pain in our culture, following the lower back and can be caused by changes in physiology, biomechanics, environmental changes as well as genetics.
In my years of practice I have been commonly asked what is the weakest area of the body I see. Although most think it is the core, and often that is weak, it is only third in line after the neck/head, with the feet winning the first place position.
Foot problems are nothing new. Dr. William Scholl (June 22, 1882 – March 30, 1968), a world famous foot specialist and pioneer of foot care reported 7 out of 10 people had painful feet. With sundry avenues from which foot problems arise, you may wonder whether the foot was one of evolution’s few architectural mistakes. And, is there anything we can do to create better health for our feet? I definitely think so.
My client, Cassy, is a hiker. She came to me because she loves to hike yet her feet and knees gave her trouble one hour into her trek. Observing her standing and walking, it was evident to me why. The majority of her weight was shifted back in her heels.
As with Cassy, your functional posture starts from the ground up. Just as the structure of a well-built house starts with a solid foundation, so does your anatomy. The foot is a complex, beautifully designed shock-absorbing and propelling part of your body. How it supports you determines your ability to acquire healthy results, or acquire injury over time. Here are a few exercises to think about when using your feet.
Action Exercise 1:
It doesn’t matter if you are flat footed, have high arches, bunions, supinate or pronate to do this first exercise. It all begins at your feet and to three points within the arch I call the “tripod”.
When standing, your foot’s arch acts like a bridge designed to support your body’s weight. The tripod of your foot consists of three points on the underneath side of your foot to best utilize this arch support. It’s simple to find with two forward points and one aft.
On the bottom of your bare foot between your first and second toe, draw or imagine a straight line down to the top of your arch. Place a dot there. This is one point of your tripod. (If your feet slightly pronate or fall in toward your midline, this location can move to the second toe. If you pronate severely this location can move as far over as between the second and third toe).
At your fourth toe, imagine drawing another straight line down until you arrive at the top of the arch and place your second dot there (if you supinate or roll out heavily, this location can be found between the third and fourth toe). The aft and final point is found at the lower part of your arch, in between the two upper points you just created. Please see diagram.
Standing, try to distribute your weight evenly between these three locations. Observe that the front two points are able to handle more of your body weight, than the one single back point.
Next, from your collarbone allow your body weight to shift forward and slightly upward while hinging at the ankles until you feel balanced on your two forward points. While maintaining balance on these forward points, gently add the one in back. The goal is to find equal balance between all three points of each foot, while maintaining contact to the ground with the whole foot.
Once you find your tripod’s “sweet spot,” you may feel like you’re falling forward. Make sure you are neither sticking your butt out, nor tucking it under. If you still feel as if you are falling forward, that is okay. Your body simply needs time to figure out its new position. Stand an additional three minutes to allow your brain time to send messages to your muscles on how to adapt to the new function at your feet. Once this feels a bit normal, go for a short walk using your tripod. Even if it’s only 60 feet, it is a great way to get used to your new foundation. Your foot is powerful and meant to be used.
Each foot has 26 bones, making a whopping 52 bones in both of your feet. To give you some perspective, that is 25 percent of all the bones in your body. Per foot, these bones make up 33 joints, connect to 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. If you are unable to maintain your balance forward on your tripod, yet instead seem to transfer your weight back towards your heels; there may be a good reason for that. It may simply be that some of the joints in your foot are immobile, not allowing you the freedom to transfer your weight easily through your foot. If that is the case, feel free to contact the author or meet with one of ZUM’s coaches for some exercises to mobilize your foot.
Action Exercise No 2: The Racing Stripe Method. The Racing Stripe Method is another functional way to use your foot and easy to understand. On the tops and bottoms of your feet, draw a straight line from your 3rd and 4th toes down to the end of your heel. Use the muscles under your arch of this “racing stripe” as you do the activities that take you forward and back such as walking, running, squatting, etc. Many of us tend to fall inward at our feet and ankles, which is the direction towards our belly button. This collapse often happens at the bottom of our squats, when the feet hit the ground during walking, running and jumping. Make sure to keep the muscles of your “racing stripe” engaged, especially those under the foot during these higher impact moves.
Another area of importance to this wonderfully crafted part of your body is shoe fit. Different shoe boxes (the part of the shoe that houses the width of your foot and toes) can crowd the toes disrupting joint alignment, balance and function; all of which promote the possibility of overlapping toes, hammer toes and bunions.
Make sure your shoes are wide enough to allow for necessary working order and freedom of the tarsal and metatarsal bones. These bones allow the foot to function as a platform for the rest of your body to propel from while walking, climbing stairs, running and jumping. As well, these bones act as shock absorbers to absorb the forces from these same activities when given ample space to function.
Lack of this function arises when the shoe is too narrow or tied too tight. Over time, the metatarsal bones are squeezed together and can pinch nerves that run between the bones. This in turn can cause one to suffer from a pinched nerve or a small benign growth of nerve tissue tumor diagnosed as a neuroma, causing pain, burning sensations, tingling or numbness at the shoe’s box.
Whether you have foot concerns or not, giving a little mental and physical effort in creating a strong base of support acts as an investment in your future health. It reinforces a foundation that the rest of your body can move efficiently from. Couple this with a proper shoe fit and it is your contribution toward walking into life, pain free and strong.