When was the last time you checked-in with your feet, including your toes?
Jochen Schoenfeld /123Rf Photo
Feet play a crucial role in our well-being yet often don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s time to take off your shoes and socks, free your feet, take a good look at them, and more importantly, really feel them! Let me tell you why.
When you take a step, the foot is the first part of the body to touch the ground. There are so many ways people land on that foot — either good or bad. How that step occurs will affect all of the joints above the foot, even as far as the hip. What starts with your feet impacts the rest of your body.
What Makes a Foot a Foot
The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body.
The bone you will most likely recognize is the Calcaneous – the heel. In a perfect world of walking, you land with the heel, preferably at the center of the heel. Walk around barefoot on a hard surface to increase the sensitivity of your feet. When you’re wearing shoes, not only do we hide our feet, we decrease the sensitivity.
Some people put orthotics in their shoes to help support arches that are either too flat or too high. But when we go barefoot, the feet, which have come to depend on the orthotics, are suddenly left without the support they’ve come to rely on. I do believe that orthotics can be very helpful at times, however I believe we should not rush out to purchase them but focus instead on first trying to build the strength of the ankle via various exercises including balancing on one leg while keeping the ankle in a neutral position.
Get Acquainted with your Feet
Lay down: Let’s start by laying down flat on the floor. Close your eyes and let your feet relax. Pay attention to your heels. Compare right to left. Does one heel touch the floor more than the other? Is one heel touching the floor more on the outside of the heel? Pay attention to tiny details and make a mental note of your findings.
Stand up: Now stand up, preferably in front of a mirror. How do your feet look? Are all ten toes pointing straight ahead? Is one foot turned out? Are the feet even or is one ahead of the other? How are your arches? Are they flat or high? Do you have any overlapping toes? Do you have any hammer toes (curled up)? Does the big toe overlap smaller toes (bunions)? Just observe the feet and become familiar with them. Sounds silly, right? Yes, but here’s the serious part. What happens to our feet will affect the rest of the body! If your arches cave in, your knees will likely also cave in and also your hips. So pay attention to those feet and don’t take them for granted.
Balance: When you walk there is a split second where you’re on just one leg. That’s why balance is critical for a functional walk and the prevention of injuries and pain. Usually I have my clients stand in front of a mirror to get the ankles in a neutral position before loading the leg. Use some support if you see the arch collapse. Then move to less support until you can balance on one leg for at least 3 seconds.
Build that 3 seconds up to 10 and finally to 30 seconds. This will stabilize the ankles and increase the proprioception in the ankles – meaning you don’t have to look down each time you take a step. You can communicate with your feet while moving. This telepathic communication is going to transfer into a steadier and healthier walk. You may even be able to do some light jumping (plyometric) to build stability even more.
Walk: Now walk around and feel how you land with the heels. Then bring your attention to how you roll onto the rest of the foot. (Walking backwards can actually enhance this feeling.) And lastly, note how you push off with the ball of the foot.
Of course, you will need to put on shoes eventually, and they won’t always be the best choice for your feet. So be sure to have a good pair of walking shoes based on the three stages during of your walk: round heel, stability in the middle, flexibility of the front part of the shoe. For more information on what to consider when buying walking or Nordic Walking shoes check out my book Nordic Walking.
I’ve worked as a personal fitness trainer for people who are 50 years old plus for more than 25 years. I’ve learned a lot about what can happen if you don’t listen to your body. I’ve seen incredible clients adjust and accept instead of giving up. If you don’t maintain the muscles around the ankle, it’s been my experience that the inflexibility prevents you from moving through a normal gait and you may start shuffling, taking shorter steps and compensating with turning the feet out too much which we did to balance when we started to walk as a toddler. I don’t suggest any dramatic changes, just increased awareness so you can be in tune with your feet.
Copyright © Malin Svensson/2016 Singular Communications, LLC.
Originally from Sweden, SingularCity member Malin Svensson came to the United States in 1989 with a Master’s Degree in Physical Education. A former nationally ranked track and field athlete with 25 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, Malin specializes in correcting muscular imbalances. As the president of Nordic Body Inc. she is committed to inspire people to get fit and stay fit at any age. Malin has been featured as a walking and fitness expert on CBS Los Angeles and in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Body + Soul, All You, Weight Watchers, Organic Spa Magazine and Fitness magazine. She is a leading authority on Nordic Walking.
My Morning 5-Minute “I Love My Feet” Routine
Before I even get out of bed, I take time to connect with my feet, a gentle and kind way to appreciate the part of my body that will carry me through the rest of my day.
1. Sit on the edge of the bed with feet off the floor.
2. Stretch/spread the toes (create space in-between the toes) and then do the opposite – curl the toes. Repeat this 10 times.
3. Circle the ankles in both directions.
4. Move ankles gently back and forth. Try and have them track straight. Aim for a stretch in both directions.
5. Now stand up. Move the ankle joint into neutral position – not on the outside or inside.
6. Feel how rotating your thighs outward help increase the arch of the foot. Feel how this rotating movement engages the buttocks.
7. Hold on to something sturdy. Load one leg (stand on one leg). Feel that whole side is like a solid pillar. Push down on the ground with the foot at the same time you pull up to the ceiling through the top of your head.
8. Try to safely balance on one leg without support.
9. Now you can start walking slowly to the bathroom. Feel those heels touch the ground as you roll onto the rest of the foot.
10. After the bathroom visit. Pay attention to how the heels come off the floor as you push off with the ball of your foot.
When you do this on a daily basis, you’ll develop a relationship with your feet that will be well-rewarded!