…As if you have a favourite foot?! You can always walk with confidence if you take care of your feet. That doesn't mean pedicures and soft marshmallows shoes, feet love to be free. This post is all about my foot philosophy.
I often get asked about foot pain, plantar fasciitis, toe and balance issues. There are a couple of things to know and understand about how the foot works which will hopefully bring you a better understanding of my somewhat whimsical answers to these questions.
To start here are some lesser known facts about the foot:
There are more sensory nerve endings per cm2 than in any other part of your body
Your foot (specifically the plantar fascia) acts as a shock absorber. When we run, you load each foot with about 5 times your own body weight with each stride.
There are 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles and tendons in the foot.
These amazing biomechanical marvels are also most commonly the most disliked part of the body. Poor feet! So lets give them some love and learn more about how any why I believe we should free - foot as often as possible, and how it will affect the rest of your body and wellbeing.
Leave Your Baggage At The Door
There is good reason to get your hoofs out when you get home. If you are new to going bare-foot this is the safest and most comfortable way to start practicing free - footing. Think of all the textures your feet would come into contact with on the floors in your home: The soft double pile rug, the slick and smooth wooden floorboards, the cold tiles, stairs and levels or slopes and the holy grail of texture... Lego! All of these textures and minor differences send rapid fire of information, through the retinaculum, to your brain, that helps us to gain a better understanding of our surroundings.
It's how even if you're wearing shoes you can tell, by the sensation underfoot, whether you are on gravel or grass. By having this sensory input our body quickly adjusts and adapts so that we don't fall. Just like any muscle or neural pathway the more we practice this the better we get.
So, lets take a moment to consider the shod foot who trudged home from a long day at work and was not set free into her surroundings to explore. She's still stuck in the tensions and constraints of the day at work, she's got no idea she can let go. Just think about what this would do for your mental health? I think de-shoeing at the door is as much a ritual signalling to us, a change of pace and expectations as well as an indicator that be natural and free in our own homes. These soft, cool and delightful textures we have so carefully curated in making our homes comfortable can also be enjoyed by the 8000 nerves of the foot and in so doing, allows us to become more present in our environment.
Once your feet become more resilient to the sensory input of your home, you can take you feet out for a walk in the garden, to explore a whole new world of neurological delights. You might notice how stepping on small sharp stones, will make your shoulders hunch and your jaw tighten, but, on a big rock warmed by the sun, you will relax. This is where I'll introduce you to the kinetic chain.
"The kinetic link principle describes how the human body can be considered in terms of a series of interrelated links or segments."- Todd S. Ellenbecker and Ryoki Aoki
Everything is connected, through fascia. Your "knee thing" or your "shoulder thing" may very well be related to your "foot thing". It is with respect to the kinetic chain that we do Pilates with bare feet or in socks. As bipedal mammals we're perfectly designed to be in an upright position. We receive a signal from our feet telling our brain to rearrange our joints and muscles to accommodate and adapt to our surroundings. This means minuscule adjustments in tension, degrees of angles and overall muscle tone.
In the same way we cannot tell which end is the beginning of a piece of string, which is the beginning or the end of the kinetic chain? Will a tight jaw or hunched shoulders alter how we stand on our feet? Yes!
By grounding our feet, they quite literally spread and release tension into the earth. If this is blowing your mind, think of the exercises we do with the yellow balls under heels and how you can exert pressure into them and they into you. The same is true for Mother Earth! With the additional sensory input of the ground we can gain a better sense of where the rest of our body is in space, this is proprioception. The body will be naturally aligned and this will allow the core to function more effectively. This is just the tip of the iceberg and opens the door as to why "earthing" has become a thing.
Believe me, I love a pretty heel and my birks as much as the next person. I suggest wearing a variety of shoes often. By putting out feet in different positions frequently we're less likely to create chronic shoe related injury. The evidence suggests that overworn shoes could be of more detriment to foot and biomechanical health than just incorrect footwear. So wear those heels while you vaccum and buy new shoes often!
Feet are suckers for punishment. Studies show that wearing minimalist bare-footwear increases the strength of the foot and lower leg by 60%. So if you are concerned about foot, ankle or calf strength (which affects your knees btw) you may want to consider going barefoot more frequently.
The biomechanics of gait and propulsion can get a little overwhelming so I'm going to do my best to try and explain it in the most simple and fun way that I can.
When walking you can consider your Achilles tendon as a bow and your heel as the arrow. When your foot is flexed and you heel is towards the ground, your pulling the bow back; at heel strike, the Achilles thrusts your heel forward and thus propels you. Now imagine all of that but your heel is made of marshmallow. This is what we are doing to the mechanics of our feet by wearing comfortable / "supportive" shoes. We're essentially robbing our feet of the feedback, strength and force required to make them sing. (!?)
The Plantar Fascia acts as a kind of trampoline. The downward force of the weight of your body onto the arch of your foot stretches it out. As is springs back and recoils, it will launch your foot away from the ground. By wearing shoes with arch supports and cushioning we're not allowing this downward stretch of the plantar fascia and we have to recruit other foot, ankle, leg and bodily muscles to get some lift. This disrupts those amazing neural pathways to the brain, reducing proprioception, and disrupting the kinetic chain.
The last part is the roll through. Think of how bendy your toes are, they can do some weird and wonderful things. As your heel leaves the floor, and the plantar fascia recoils, you'll roll over your toes. You can think of it like that little toe flap at the front of your old school New Balance. In an ideal world we'd roll over the ball of our foot from the midline, inwards onto the big toe. The big toe's strong tendon (FHL) , like the plantar fascia, will recoil and push the foot away from the ground.
It's the notion of what goes up must come down. When this happens over and over again, like a ball, the impetus from the downward motion elastically rebounds and lifts us up. By leaning in to the biomechanics of the myofascia of foot and lower leg, we take the strain off of the whole bodies musculature that is having to work hard to move us. Your ankles , thighs, back and even your core is having to make minor adjustments to enable you to move while in shoes that prevent biomenchanical feedback. Think of it like trying to bounce a ball on grass vs on the basket ball court, and the effort required in these situations.
When the foot and lower leg are free you will gain a spring in your step and a lightness and ease of motion throughout your whole body.
This video gives us a good view of the natural trampoline of the foot
As the daughter of a nurse and as a physiology geek, I have a healthy respect for science and medicine. I believe we are totally hashtagblessed to have these resources when nature goes awry. While I am not totally opposed to orthotics, I do think it is important to critically consider the bad with the good. I believe as dynamic, resilient and adaptable humans we should be able to release our grip on our crutches and function as well as possible without intervention.
Here are some points to ponder about orthotics:
Some orthotics are created specifically for a pathology and hopefully you are working on instrisic strengthening and releasing of the muscles of the foot and lower leg so you can ditch the supports. If not, you need to have a strong word with your physio or doctor as we shouldn't need to depend on orthotics to get through the day.
We should be respectful our fascinating and brilliant human design.
Marshmallows: Orthotics are often used for support when we have a foot injury. I mentioned before, our feet are suckers for punishment and require feedback for our bodies to function. With additional cushioning underfoot you may find relief temporarily, but as your body goes searching for feedback you may find you strike the floor even harder to "create" ground- force. This in turn increase force absorption on the knee and hip, and can exacerbate back pain.
Don't be a square peg in a round hole: Just like worn down shoes, orthotics can force your foot and as a result the rest of your body into a shape. There is the classic x - ray image of the foot in a high heeled shoe. Orthotics and many farshun sneakers are just the same. Thinking of the kinetic chain when wearing orthotics frequently, you may be disrupting the bodies ability to dynamically stabilise as you persistently throw yourself off balance.
"Lateral heel attrition in outsoles is the most common degeneration pattern of shoes. The attrition shoes have significant impacts on the kinematics and kinetics of the lower limb joints. The peak plantarflexion angle and moment of the ankle joint decrease, and the first knee adduction moment and hip internal and abduction moments increase during walking for the AS group. Our findings in this study imply that aging shoes are not desirable, especially for those people with knee problems. Attrition in the heel also raises balance risk. Although the exact abrasion amount in aging shoes is not demonstrated for a shoe change, attrition shoes influence the walking pattern and result in discomfort." - Effects of Attrition Shoes on Kinematics and Kinetics of Lower Limb Joints During Walking
Fairy Floss: Fascia resembles fairy floss (Check out Gil Hedley’s video on YouTube called “The Fuzz”). When moving the fairy floss sticks in some places and releases in others, constantly changing and adapting as needed. When we don't move, our fascia resembles fairy floss in a toddlers hand - it becomes congealed and tacky. Our bodies are designed to move and the best way to reahibilate an injury is to move it. Orthotics can be problematic because the require us to wear shoes. Clodhoppers restrict our ability to fully move all the joints of the feet, they are the tight jeans at Christmas lunch. As movement professionals we are learning more and more about how our sedentary and static lives strongly impact our wellbeing on all levels.
In a world intent on rushing, it is our impatience that gets the better of us. Who's got time to rehabilitate their feet, right? Consciously understanding, mobilising, massaging and moving our painful and inconvenient parts, takes time, intention and resilience. It is far easier to pop something in our shoe that provides us relief, until it isn't. Sometimes the neglect of your feet will show up somewhere else. Giving your feet some love could be the key to unlocking movement freedom.
So show your feet some love: kick off your shoes under your desk; scrub 'em in the shower; give them a rub when they’re cold; free your phalanges as often as you can, your whole body will benefit! Your base of support will be stronger, more resilient and grounded.
Footloose & Fancy Free
I hope I’ve inspired a new wave foot-freedom! Perhaps a new pair of Move Active socks is in order to keep those tootsies warm and sticky! If you have specific questions or if you have a suggestion for a topic you’d like me to address, please leave a comment. Also let me know if youre reading this and if you enjoyed it.
Keep a look out for some foot and leg strengthening and stretching videos we’ll be launching soon!
See you at the studio Twinkle Toes!