Our feet are our foundation, bearing the weight of our body and connecting us to the earth. They are the base from where the rest of our body rises up and is supported from. However, compared to the foundation of a building our feet are in many ways far more complex, because they not only have to hold us steady and firm when we are stationary but also when we are moving, at different speeds and over varying terrain. The average person walks staggering 110,000 miles in a lifetime!
So, our feet need to be intelligent and agile to effectively support us hence they are hugely complex with 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 ligaments in each foot. They are designed to take the stresses and the strains of walking on a range of surfaces and gradients, acting like a sensory organ. Each foot has 3 arches, a lateral longitudinal arch (heel to the base of the little toe), medial longitudinal arch (heel to the base of the big toe) and a transverse arch (from big toe to little toe bases), a shape architecturally known for its structural strength. Whilst the many bones are designed to move in relation to each other reading the surfaces you walk on, creating neurological images in the systems of your body to interpret an awareness of your position in space and thus invoke multiple postural adjustments throughout your body as you move.
The feet have the potential to be as dexterous as our hands. However we spend the majority of our lives inadvertently binding our feet in shoes and walking on man-made, flat, and predominantly smooth surfaces, effectively immobilising so much of their potential. Our feet have lost their sensitivity and mobility. Because of this, over time we create many problems not only in our feet but also as you travel up the kinetic chain of our bodies into the ankles, knees, hips and lower back which all end up compensating for the diminished mobility of our feet. Indeed the fascia at the base of our feet has a sensory connection all the way up the back of our body, up and over the head and concluding at the eyebrows! Hence this is how a foot massage can benefit your whole body.
So how can we regain some of the mobility of our feet to prevent aches, pains and common conditions like plantar fasciitis?
Firstly mix things up, change your footwear, don't wear the same shoes or style of shoe all the time, vary the size of any heels you wear, try to wear flat shoes more and walk barefoot where you safely can, allowing your toes to spread out. Walk on different types of surfaces like sandy beaches, grassy fields or gravel paths and welcome different gradients walking up and down hills.
Secondly slip these few mobility exercises into your day as often as you can:
1. Top of the foot stretch: Roll over the toes and resist the top of the foot into the floor and feel the stretch all the way up your shin.
2. Calf stretch: Place the ball of your foot on a rolled up towel, keeping your heel on the floor, feeling the stretch up your calf, keep the body upright, shoulders and hips stacked over heels.
Another easy calf stretch to do whilst out and about is to drape your heel backwards down off a step keeping your forefoot on the step.
3. Mobilisation with a small ball: Drape your foot over a tennis ball or similar sized massage ball, roll the ball systematically around under the whole surface of your foot, including the edges and the heel. Vary the load on your foot by moving between sitting, standing and pressing into the ball.
4. Toe waves: Standing or sitting barefoot lift and spread apart all 10 toes, then try to sequentially place them back down on the floor moving from the little toe into the big toe. Repeat again in reverse lowering the big toes down first and working your way out to the little toes.
5. Arch strengthener: Try to scrunch up a thin cloth placed on the floor by pulling up on the arches of your feet.
All of these exercises can be slotted into your day a few at a time, do some whilst working at your desk or whilst standing to talk on the phone. A few and often, included in our daily routine, is a great idea for these exercises.
So next time you get frustrated by an uneven pavement, of which there are a few, rethink it as an opportunity to train and challenge the mobility of your feet, after all the earth we walk is not meant to be uniformly flat.
Move your DNA by Katy Bowman