In my last post I gave you some of the basic information about your feet. I talked about the reason they’re so important, and how they’ve basically been paralyzed by our footwear. Our feet are designed to be as dextrous as our hands. Weshould be able to move each toe separately from each other, just like our fingers. Based on the amount of muscles, bones, and ligaments in our feet, there are billions and billions (and probably more) ranges of motion we should be able to achieve with our feet while walking and hiking. When our feet become frozen and only able to achieve a few ranges of motion, what happens?
A lot of things happen. We start to move our feet relative to our ankle, instead of relative to the foot. Sound silly? Think about it. Why do you think we HAVE all of those muscles and bones and joints in there, if not to use them to walk? When our feet are tight from being bound up in shoes all of the time, and very little contact with natural surfaces, all of those muscles shorten, and we stop using them. This can also cause lots of pain in our feet. Then, in order to compensate for the loss of flexibility in the foot, our foot starts to move as a solid object, and just hinges at the ankle. Tendonitis and knee pain, anyone? This is how it starts. As the rest of our body compensates for our tight feet, we create problems in the joints and muscles attached to them. It starts with our lower legs and slowly moves up the rest of our body until we have a tight jaw and a rigid neck. And it all started in our feet. So what do we do about it? I’m going to tell you what I’ve done, and what I teach others to do in my Restorative Exercise™sessions. I’ll touch on some basics in this post, and follow up over the next few weeks with more advanced exercises to get your feet flexible and mobile again.
1. Lessen the time you spend in shoes with a positive heel. Most people I know, men and women alike, wear “work shoes” during the day. This usually means high heels for women, and tight, sometimes pointy-toed leather shoes for men (and yes, even the men’s shoes have a bit of a heel). Then they get off work and either go home or go to the gym and put on sneakers or running shoes which usually…also have a heel.
|I just…can’t.||Men’s shoes. With a heel, y’all. And pointy! Ouch!|
And many of them have narrow toe-boxes as well. There is no difference here, folks.
|I hate to sound like a broken record, but…heels.||See that? At the back there? That’s a heel.|
The sneakers may feel more comfortable, but in terms of doing damage to your feet, you might as well keep your work shoes on. Did you know that for every degree of heel on your shoe (so even half an inch) there is a degree of joint displacement? This means that even small “kitten” heels will force your joints into unnatural positions.
What’s the solution? Start small. If you wear “high” heels, move down to smaller heels. Instead of putting on sneakers when you get home, go barefoot, or find some comfortable ballet flats to wear around the house.
You also want to avoid mules, slides, and (I know, this sucks) flip-flops, as anything without a back that holds on to your foot forces you to scrunch your toes up in order to keep the shoes on. Sorry to be such a bummer about footwear, y’all, but is the pain in your body really worth it?
2. Do some simple exercises to prepare your feet to be out of their casts. If you’ve ever had a cast on your arm or leg, you know that you’ve got to do some work once the cast is off to get the flexibility and muscular strength back to normal so you can use the arm or leg in a natural way. The same applies to your feet. With the amount of tightness and tension we create in our feet, we can’t go from wearing tight, high-heeled shoes to barefoot all of time without first stretching and exercising the feet. Here a few exercises you can do at home to get your feet barefoot ready.
Stretch your toes with your fingers. Move them back and forth, around and around, pull them. Anything to get those muscles moving between your toes.
Use toe separators. I found these on Amazon for pretty cheap, and there are plenty of others available if you search “toe separators” on Google. I’ve also used the cheap kind they sell for pedicures. I usually put them on when I’m watching tv and leave them on for an hour or so. If you experience pain and soreness take them off and give your toes a break.
Another option is foot alignment socks. My Happy Feet socks are the best, and their website has tons of foot health information. You can also wear good ol’ fashioned toe socks. I don’t recommend the black ones if you have a white dog, though. 🙂 You can find them here. I have also found some cheaper options on Amazon, and I really like that they have grippy stuff on the bottom, and I wear them around the house in the colder months.
And finally, do a calf stretch. In the pictures I’m using a foam dome, but you can use a rolled up yoga mat or bath towel (not a bath sheet) and standing with feet pelvis width apart, put the ball of one foot at the top of the dome, letting your heel relax to the ground. Now walk the other foot forward until you feel a stretch in your calf. Keep your hips pointing forward and your weight in the heel of the foot on the dome. If you feel pain, move the foot that’s not on the dome back until it’s comfortable. Did you lean forward? Stand up as straight as you can with your hips backed up over your heels. Hold for 60 seconds on each side. Do this stretch three times a day and try to move the foot not on the dome forward just a little bit every few days (or weeks, depending on the tightness in your calves).
3. Find ways to walk on natural surfaces. Give your feet the opportunity to move naturally. Start with walking on natural surfaces, i.e., grassy areas, gravel, dirt, any surface that’s NOT flat concrete or asphalt, while wearing shoes with less padding. Walk barefoot at home to let your feet remember what it’s like to not be in shoes, then take a walk outside without shoes on after you’ve done some foot stretching. In one of my classes during my RE certification week, we stretched our feet with a ball under the foot holding the ball in one specific spot for a minute, then moved the ball down maybe half an inch and held for another minute, until we’d stretched our entire foot.
We used Pinky balls that you can get at any dollar store. We then went out and walked barefoot on some rocks. The foot I’d been stretching moved with the rocks and was less painful than the foot I hadn’t stretched. Walk around in the grass in bare feet. When walking around where you live, try to find grassy areas to walk on beside the sidewalk instead of the sidewalk.
Your feet will thank you.