Your feet are the basis for almost all of your movements. Even when you consider the movements that involve your hands, most of them still involve your feet. The fact that we don’t really use our feet much creates major issues for us.
I talk a little about the foot in my post about the Vibram Five Fingers . While it seems unbelievable, we have as many nerve endings in our foot as we do in our hands. That means we should be able to do with our feet just about any thing we can do with our hands. Things that don’t require a thumb of course! The fact that we can’t shows how much our modern footwear has affected our foot health.
I used to run a small business trimming horse hooves, and interestingly, this venture taught me a lot about the human foot. A horses hoof shows very clearly and movement pattern imbalances. Human feet will do exactly the same thing.
Our feet should expand and contract as needed to support our weight. The heavier your are the larger your foot should be. Just like the harder you step down, the more your foot should expand to absorb the shock. And if you stand more often on one foot than the other, the one you stand on more often will be more developed and larger than the other, for example.
One of the fundamental problems with modern footwear is that it basically casts the foot so that it can’t bend, flex, or expand very much at all. Since we’ve been shod most of our lives, these muscles have never had a chance to really develop.
Modern shoes also aren’t really shaped like the human foot at all. Almost all footwear, including tennis shoes, have a raised heel. The toe of the shoe is also shaped into a point instead of a very broad toe like a healthy human foot requires. The toes of the shoe are also curled up to accommodate the raised heel. Over time, your foot will hold this shape without the shoe being worn. Women’s shoes, especially fashionable ones, are far worse for your feet than most men’s shoes.
All this time wearing shoes leave our feet extremely tight and weak. Not only can they not properly cushion our landings properly when doing things as simple as walking, they can’t do much to help us balance when just standing. Because our feet are a weak link, extra stress is placed on our ankles, knees, hips, and even back
Actually, because shoes do most of the stabilizing work for our ankles too, our ankles have become pretty weak as well. The next link in the chain is the knee. Weak feet and weak ankles, or rather a weak lower leg, have a ton to do with the affluence of knee injuries these days.
There are a few things you can do to help retrain your feet. Number one is go barefoot whenever you can. If you spend a lot of time in heeled shoes, transition slowly because your calves will have shortened and will need to slowly stretch back out.
The next thing you can do is to practice spreading your toes. Try to spread your toes as far apart as you can several times a day for multiple reps. And the last simple thing you can do is to practice wiggling your toes individually. This is training motor paths you’ve likely almost never used. Be patient. It’s going to take time. I’m still terrible at it. It’s really hard.
Taking a little time to educate your feet can go a long way towards improving your overall health, balance, and general fitness!