Much To Do About the Foot
The athletic shoe industry was valued at $19.4 billion dollar in 2019 and although we have been in “covid casual” mode for some time, we can also toss in the high heels, platforms, dress shoes, flip flops and fancy sneakers.
Now here is a bigger question – take a look at your feet, what do you notice?
Do your toes spread out, are your toes curled, do you have bunions, do you have foot fungus (gross I know), do you have arches or flat feet and do you have a wide or narrow foot? These observations have value just like the wellbeing of the spine, the hips and the knees.
I have been on a journey the last 4 months to try to discover the mystery behind my repetitive injuries and strains that my body has endured with regard to hamstrings, hip flexors, piriformis issues, and of course the low back. Just like many, I stretch, foam roll, trigger point, active release, graston, adjust and massage my way back to feeling ok so that I can abuse my body with my physical outlets. These are all viable tools to address a symptom, but not necessarily retrain the body.
I have discovered two dynamic interventions that I have tested on myself because before I can recommend a protocol to a client, I want to make sure it works. The first one I want to share is based on the function of the foot.
Did you know the foot has 33 joints, 26 bones and 4 layers of muscle? Pretty astounding and yet very few physical therapists, trainers and sports med experts talk about the connection of our feet to the rest of the body. So what do your feet have to do with the rest of your body – EVERYTHING!
I remember as a kid going barefoot in the summer as I hated shoes. I wanted to jump in puddles, feel the grass in between my toes, stomp in the mud, walk in the creek – it all felt better without shoes. So what happens as an adult? We lose connection to the ground, we lose balance, and we lose a sense of feeling the earth under us. That loss transfers all through our bodies. Just the sensory feelings alone bring back memories when you kick off your shoes – it’s a big AHHHH moment.
I have never been a fan of minimalist running or barefoot running because I felt encouraged injury. BUT, as a fitness professional, I did understand the function of the foot with regard to balance. I have always had clients work on balance in bare feet so that they can feel the ground without a barrier provided by shoes. The sole of the foot has approximately 200,000 nerve endings, yet we continue to squeeze them into shoes that are too small and we don’t pay attention to how it is connected to the whole body.
So about 2 months ago, I started wearing a wider, lower drop shoe that allowed my feet to move and my toes to spread. I also started going barefoot more around the house and outside. I am still running in a support shoe that oddly feels restrictive. On top of all this, I am using a lacrosse ball to massage the arches of my feet when I am working at the desk or doing my daily mat work. I noticed the tightness in my arches and around my toes. Fast forward – I took an online webinar about the foot.
As luck would have it and with the help of the webinar, I am on the path to unlocking some of my repetitive injury issues. Here’s an example – I have chronic left hamstring tightness/strain that does not respond well to long distance running, car riding, cycling – you name it. This also has caused issues at the knee, at the ankle and sometimes my low back. I go in circles looking for solutions. With various therapies, I put a temporary band aid on it only to have it resurface and repeat.
SoI painfully began to dig in with the lacrosse ball on the arch of left foot. I continued to work the toes with massage and separation work, and stretched/strengthened the upstream kinetic chain. My routine takes 10 to 15 minutes. I also modified my entire training program to cut back on speed, intensity, and heavy weights. My first discovery in my assessment is my left leg’s range of motion (ROM) from the big toe, through the arch, to the ankle, into the knee and hip was not at full movement. My body has also developed this mean sense of compensation for these imbalances. That’s the beauty of the human body – when one body part falters, the other parts pick up the slack. But in return, these parts will also break down. A demonic twist for sure.
Now this new plan took longer than a few days to see change. This continues to be daily work and PATIENCE. I have been working my body, training at a modest rate and then working it again. Remember, the wear and tear patterns have been established, so I am attempting to re-program my body and how it moves.
This past weekend, I put it to the test by doing a walk/run on the beach with a modified gait plus going barefoot. I was extremely nervous and excited. Three and a half miles later I had a little tightness in the shins, but I was pain free. I ran mindfully, focused on using the foot musculature and then did a light foam roll post – run. This was my first win!
Now to complete the picture, the hips and pelvis are your powerhouse. Poor mobility and function can move up the body or move down the body. That’s why it is so important to evaluate the body as a whole through movement, not just the symptom of pain from injury. I am not saying every injury starts at the foot. But as a professional on the field, I am a firm believer we need to look at the WHOLE body including the feet to provide a sense of total function.
If you are interested in unlocking your body from the ground up, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 20 minute consultation.