Updated: Jun 16
A few people have lately approached me because of problems with their feet, from plantar fascitis to inflammations in articular surfaces of metatarsals.
One thing all they have in common is a mix of sudden increased activity, poor form, and overprotective shoes.
All of it combined brings the question, what's the central problem and the most likely solution?
In most cases is lacking care for our feet. Question yourself,
Do I stretch my feet? Do I exercise them? Do I allow proper movement of them?
If the answer to these questions is no or we don't know, probably we have a problem.
We have to bear in mind that the whole body is a unit. If something in our feet isn't working, that will affect other parts by the effect of compensation, e.a. shin splints, knee and hips issues, etc.
Generally, the offered "solution" only addresses the symptoms, not the problems;
Cortisone, orthotics, or over cushioned shoes will only silence the symptoms, but the problem will still be there.
One of the big problems which develop chronic weakness in your feet is over-protection. Massive cushioning, rigidity, pronation or supination support, and fashionable shapes leave the actual foot with close to no work to do and no space to move freely.
Imagine an arm with a cast because of an accident for a few months. It is ok to use it for a while to heal but extending unnecessarily the duration will cause further disuse atrophy.
Muscles require a balance of enzymes and hormones that is constantly adjusted according to how much they are being used. Unused muscles shrink and weaken because this balance is thrown off.
Something similar happens with our feet.
Then, what can we do?
Well, let's go one step at a time.
First, let's try to understand our feet.
The ankle and foot complex contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles. As you can tell, such an intricate model which gives an idea of how much a foot can move and do.
To summarize, there are three arches in our feet—the longitudinal lateral arch (which goes the length of the foot along the outside), the longitudinal medial arch (which goes the length of the foot along the inside), and the transversal arch, which is that big concave in the middle that most people think of when they think of foot arches.
The design of those arches allows the foot to move in every direction to enable whatever it is we might do—stand, walk, run forward, run backward, jump and spring, or shuffle sideways. In addition, that design is such that no matter the action, the weight of the load is evenly distributed across the entire foot.
All of this bears the idea that, when standing completely still, the foot should naturally point straight ahead. But because of interrupted development, sedentary lifestyle, shoe choice, and numerous other contributing factors, our bodies get misaligned and our joints get deviated, as can be seen by a foot pointing out or fallen arches for instance.
When this happens, the weight during activity is no longer evenly distributed across the foot, and sometimes, too much weight is being placed on the heel and, medial and lateral aspects of the front foot, therefore, leading to joint problems, corn and callus skin, and plantar fascitis to name a few.
From that point, our body will start compensating creating problems in higher joints and areas.
The good news is that there are solutions.
If your joints are misaligned and your feet are pointing out, you can realign them. In addition, if your arches have fallen, you can raise them again; that’s right, your flat feet don’t have to be that way. Our bones do what our muscles tell them to do; in infancy and toddlerhood, the actions of crawling and learning to walk compelled our foot muscles to tell our foot bones what they needed to hear to develop arches. With proper alignment exercises, stretching and the right choices of shoes, that process can be duplicated in adulthood.
But that requires a full realigning of the body over the course of a few months. For now, here are a few tips that will help you:
· Walk barefoot as much as possible ( home, beach, park, etc).
· When possible walk and run on uneven terrain ( grass, gravel, etc).
· Use toe spreaders often.
· Select the right footwear.
Flexible, neutral, with enough toe box, breathable fabrics. The idea is that when you wear shoes, allowing your feet to move and work as intended will be beneficial in the long term. Your feet will regain the strength and mobility needed. Be aware of over-cushioned or over-supportive shoes or those encouraging damaging stride patterns, i.e. heel strike.
Like everything, if someone wants to see a longtime change, consistency is the key. Basically the more you wear the right shoes when needed the better.
There are plenty of brands and manufacturers who specialised in natural foot shape, barefoot or minimalistic shoes.
It doesn't mean to avoid completely those nice shoes for occasions, uniforms, some sports like cycling, skiing, etc.
· Maintain good hygiene of your feet. Both nails and skin. If an area bothers you, most likely you will adapt your stride to avoid certain discomfort or pain. Those changes could potentially trigger compensations leading to stress and injury.
As stated earlier, the changes won't happen overnight, and in some instances, orthotics and medicines will help, but look at this as a long-term investment. It takes time, consistency and, patience.