HAVE YOU GOT FOOT PAIN?
Our Foot Architecture
Us humans are the only bipedal animal that can walk upright on two feet. Walking may seem easy to us but it is a complex motor pattern. Our feet contain 25% of the bones in our body, 33 joints and over 100 muscles/tendons and ligaments. The feet are the only part of our body that make contact with the ground as we navigate the world, they have an extensive network of nerves within their soles that transmit information to your brain from the ground beneath you. There is a reason why we can fly rockets into space, however we still haven’t built a robot to walk as smoothly as a human. It’s quite a complex movement.
Where my interest in feet has derived.
Before anyone says it, no I don’t have a foot fetish, however, I do really enjoy reading and learning about feet. I find them thoroughly interesting and because I have had trouble with my own I have always questioned how can we improve our foot health.
I have been exposed to bare feet from a young age. I trained in Taekwon-Do (A Korean martial art) for 15 years from 7- 22 years old. We never wore shoes at training. I didn’t have any problems with my feet.
During University, I also worked in a sports shop for 6 years selling performance footwear. I would sell the fanciest, high tech, chunky pair of shoes to a woman who could barely walk efficiently that was going to run a marathon. I would consult the customer, do a fancy gait analysis to see if they had a pronated, neutral or over pronated arch and then give them the most expensive shoe possible in the hope that this would help them prevent injury. Little did I know that this was masking a weakness or structural problem in the body that can’t be fixed by a shoe.
In University, I competed in both Olympic Weightlifting and boxing, I trained some days for up to five hours. I wore two different high tech shoes for each sport each costing from €200-€300 and then I began to get plantar fasciitis (An inflammation in the fascia, the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes) I would train and train and it was getting so painful that I could barely walk.
What did I do? I went and I got €300 orthotics from the physio which didn’t actually treat the problem but mask it and the pain worsened.
During my sports and exercise science degree, I studied biomechanics, we looked at the mechanics of barefoot running versus running in a performance shoe. The literature did not point out which one was better but I was intrigued by the barefoot phenomena.
I began to delve into barefoot footwear and training barefoot and over the last few years I have accumulated some great resources, exercises and a more holistic perspective towards having the healthiest, most functional feet.
The difference between a foot that has spent most time in “normal” shoes versus a foot that has been barefoot.
I have been lucky to have spent many summers in Sri Lanka, my dad’s native country where the majority of people wear flip flops or no shoes at all. I, from a young age could see that their feet looked healthier than mine, Their toes splayed out nicely. My toes are crunched together and I have a bunion on my right foot. In the image below you can see that normal shoes f**k your feet.
Science, the industry, shoes
“You have got to realise that orthotics and performance footwear is a billion dollar INDUSTRY. Men alone in the U.S. spent $26.2 billion on footwear in 2016. It’s not your fault that advertising has skewed what you think you need for your feet when these cool, high tech shoes are fed to us through advertising daily”
Have you got bunions?
What is a bunion? A bunion is a bony, lumpy deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. Although they don’t always cause problems, bunions are permanent unless surgically corrected. Bunions are caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow for our feet. We can prevent bunions by wearing appropriate footwear.
How do improve my foot health?
1.Wear barefoot shoes with a larger toe box.
I recently invested in a pair of vivobarefoot shoes for €120. Yes, they are expensive but I’d rather have one really good quality pair of shoes that prevent any further damage to my feet than several crap pairs. Vivo barefoot are the closest shoe I have ever had to being barefoot. They have a large toe box which allow your toes to splay out naturally. I also have a pair of feiyues, a cheap kung fu barefoot shoe for only €20 but they don’t last in the Irish weather.
2.Be more aware of your arch. Stand in a tripod position
During the squat create a tripod with your foot and practise this while standing and while doing other movements throughout the day. This helps build up your arch if you have become reliant on orthoses, arch supports and or wearing shoes with a thick sole. They reduce our proprioception in our feet. The smaller muscles in our feet become unused and weakened leading to further complications. Orthotics are like putting your arm in a sling, the muscles in that arm will atrophy because they’re not being used. If a muscle isn’t used then it atrophies (waste away).
3.Buy toe spreaders from this link <Toe spreaders>
They are only $15 which is a bargain really. They do what they say on the tin, help to spread your toes which are usually crammed together in our shoes.
4.Exercises to stretch and strengthen your feet
High repetition strengthening exercises for the gluteal medius muscle will help with external rotation of the hip and in turn help externally rotate our knees and in turn create an arch. I like clams and crab walks to directly hit the gluteal medius.
Exercises and movements for the feet, try picking up bolts from the ground with your feet and putting them into a little basket this will get the smaller muscles in your feet working that have not been used in your footwear.
Do these exercises and stretches to help with bunions, plantar fasciitis and fallen arches. High repetitions 10-20 reps and 3 sets 2-3 times a week.
- Calf raises x20
- Plantar fascia stretch x 90s
- Achilles tendon stretch x 60s each side
- Clams x 20 each side
- Crab walk 20 steps each side
- Picking bolts up with your feet x 10 times each foot.
- Single leg deadlift eyes closed (tripod foot position) x 60 seconds each side.
5. Give your feet some love
No matter what occupation or physical activity you are involved in, make sure to give your feet a little massage at the end of the day or get a lacrosse ball and massage any tender spots out.
6.Go barefoot as much as possible
Ottie is a little girl from a friend of mine. I have yet to see her in a pair of shoes even outside, even when it’s raining and even though she lives in Ireland. If we were all a little more like Ottie than we would see a lot less problems with our feet. She’s one hardy little girl!
This article was written by Shakira.