Why do my feet hurt? In the morning? In the evening? With shoes, without shoes? When I am standing? Sitting?
There is no 1 answer to these above questions, but there is something we do know for certain, our bodies are designed to operate as a well oiled machine with all the parts working in sync. When one of our body pieces is not working perfectly (such as the big toe), the biomechanics of the entire foot and up the chain to ankle, knee, hip and low back will be stressed. This stress makes some muscles work harder for our movement, while others are taking a snooze and beginning to atrophy. These muscle imbalances lead to uneven pulling on the joints which leads first to joint disfunction and then degeneration and osteoarthritis.
In Paleolithic times when we humans were striving for survival we were forced to move in order to thrive. These movements had no bounds; hunting, gathering, creating, building, climbing, and fixing. Each one of these movements was essential to the development of our body. When our ancestors walked, they had to be conscious and aware of what they were walking on, (tree roots, rocks, streams, small critters.) However, we are now so disconnected from that world, there is no need for our foot to have the knowledge of what we're encountering; because it just is.
The paved path beneath our toes has prevented our foot from the necessary development our muscles desire and need. Our foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles that work synergistically together to accomplish our daily movement. Our toes are meant to grasp, spread, and propel us up and forward. We have been persuaded to wear the most rigid shoes we can find to "support our arch." After a few decades in the casts we call shoes, our foot has become so underdeveloped that we can no longer go barefoot or minimal as we were intended. The arches will fall without support, and because of the drop (definition for the difference in height between the heel and the toe of the shoe) of these rigid shoes our achilles is shortened-leading to constantly tight calves; think "Charlie horse."
So, I do not completely disagree with wearing supportive shoes, because yes, they do help maintain our arches, but the problem arises with why do we need to support the arches in the first place? Well, imagine if we never forced our foot into a rigid soled 'foot cast' in the first place? And even more, what if we performed movement to our foot the way it was intended and created for? Sounds easy enough, but what if we are 29 years old and we've already worn foot casts for 28 years? Don't fret! There are simple solutions!
How to fix your feet to eliminate foot pain once and for all. A combination of Diligence and time following 4 steps.
1) Regain foot mobility-After being in the foot cast for so long, your foot likely is lacking mobility; we must stretch the muscles and mobilize the joints.
Gastrocsoleus stretch (calf stretches-posterior leg muscles)
1) Support yourself by pressing against a wall with hands as if doing a "wall push-up." Anchor your back heel to the Earth, while keeping that back knee straight and engaging your thigh muscles to not hyperextend the knee. Lean forward with the front leg enough to feel the stretch in the back calf. (Stretch should be felt toward more of the middle of the calf.)
2) Using either a yoga block or simply the wall, support your toes against your chosen surface, knee straight, thigh engaged, and lean body slightly forward to feel the stretch. (This stretch should be felt toward the top part of the calf)
Tibialis anterior stretch (anterior leg muscles)
This is the primary muscle in the front of the lower leg. It is in charge of raising up your foot so as to not trip over your feet while walking. Many times this muscle will shorten-especially when the transverse arch is lost, so stretching it will make worlds of a difference in your foot pain. The picture depicts the toes curled under with the front of the ankle pointing forwards. Perform at least 1x a day, holding for 30 seconds, both sides.
Plantar fascia stretch
You can use either a lacrosse ball, golf ball or frozen water bottle to accomplish the task of kneading out the bottom part of your foot. Roll for 3-5 minutes a day and follow with the above calf stretches.
Fingers between toes
As shown in the video, this exercise is intended to help mobilize the toes and create space between each one. Especially great to perform after a long day of being squished in tight fitting shoes. If this is your first go around with this exercise, or if your toes have deformity from years of neglect, it is likely to be painful! So be nice! Perform this daily to both feet, rolling/flexing/extending with fingers between toes for 30 seconds.
2) Create stability-Since we've learned that our foot has long forgotten its worth because of underuse-lets begin our strengthening!
Toe ups-(calf raises)
Simple, yet effective! Calf raises can be done to start to strengthen the ankle and then therefore the foot. Perform daily, 10 sets of 3. Squeeze and concentrate, slowly raise and slowly lower. Ignore the curious pup ;)
This exercise is geared to strengthen the bottom of your foot. Trying to keep the base of the foot grounded, try your best to use only the toes to "walk" your way across the floor. I've found that this is easier on carpet vs hardwood/linoleum. (If you don't have carpet, you can try curling up a bath towel under your toes-same motion, but less demand on the toes.) "Walk" a 10 foot span back and forth 1 time a day for your foot strength.
This well known arch exercise seems simple enough, but takes much diligence! By trying to keep the ball and heel grounded (as well as toes) raise up your arch as shown. Perform A LOT! I'd say whenever you think about it; easiest to do when you are barefoot or in barefoot-type shoes. The reason being is that we are always on our feet and have (in our society of paved roads and "foot casts") lost the need for our arches to be strong.
3) Transition-Now why would you go and put that foot cast back on after retraining the foot?
There are so many awesome shoes out there that will help you in the transition to taking a more natural approach to your footwear. I wouldn't suggest hopping right into a pair of minimalist shoes quite yet, it will take quite a while of the above strengthening exercises as well as getting out of the habit of wearing the stiffest soled shoe.
4) Maintenance-Dont quit! In our sedentary life, it will become easy to fall back into the "norm." Don't allow it! Sure, its fine to wear a fancy pair of shoes for a night out, but the next day be sure to hit the foot gym hard to reverse and negative changes ;)
I promise, if you follow these steps, your feet will no longer bother!
Until next time friends,
Be well and active!
Kate Herold, D.C.
Owner and Holistic Chiropractic Physician at Blue Atlas Chiropractic