There's so much truth wrapped up in this quote.
Happy, healthy feet will take you to those good places. As fashionable and fun as footwear can be, it also must be selected for function so they can continue to carry those precious feet of yours on adventures. Of course, shoes provide protection from the elements and objects on the ground, but most commonly they are known to aid as "support" to the foot. But how much support is enough and how much support is too much?
Let's explore the design of the foot to aid in understanding its function and the reasoning behind appropriate footwear. Feet are the foundation in contact with the ground, playing a powerful role in the support of our body. A movement that happens within our foot creates a chain reaction up the body, influencing the activity of the hips and spine. The foot is a complex network of muscles, connective tissue, and bony structure, working inter-connectedly to form three different foot arches. There is the "normal" arch at the medial part of the foot, an arch that runs parallel to the outside of the foot, and an arch moving inside to outside along the metatarsal heads or "balls of the foot".
Because of the design of modern-day footwear and lack of stimulation to the foot, it is common for people to have lost the two less common arches. This frequently happens because of the lack of barefoot walking, lack of tolerance for different walking textures, and with the reliance on overly supportive footwear. When an external object (footwear) provides support, your body no longer needs to provide that support and essentially the foot becomes less structurally stable on its own. Shoes should not replace the function of your foot but rather aid in the longevity of your feet by keeping them protected.
So how do find the perfect shoe that is supportive enough without taking over the role of your foot?
Below are a few things to look for when shopping for the best footwear for you:
No heel lift: Any form a heel changes the orientation of your pelvis and ankle, limiting your range of motion and restricting your ability to perform a daily movement.
A wide toe box: This allows freedom for the forefoot to splay and move comfortably improving the strength and stability of your foot
Ability to bend at the toes: a normal walking pattern requires your big toe to bend to 90 degrees. If a shoe restricts this motion, you begin to lose some of the joint range and strength in the bottom of your foot.
Stay secure to your foot: the feeling of having to hold your shoe on your foot alters your walk which can lead to stiffness and tissue overuse.
Of course, finding the perfect shoe is important.
However, taking care of your feet is just as important. The foot is comprised of 26 bones – that's ¼ of the overall bones in the body! Based on that, I'd say the foot is kind of a big deal. Just like we brush our teeth on a daily basis to provide them with proper care, our feet need the same TLC. The foot is comprised of three arches, which form the foundation and support of our foot. From modern day footwear, our toes and arches become overly contained, weakened, and less functional. We can nourish our feet by allowing them to spread and open so they are able to optimally provide their role in supporting the body from the ground up. Let's take a look at a few ways to create a more functional, stronger, and happier foot.
Two key goals of daily foot health include: 1) improving the mobility of the foot and lower leg and 2) strengthening the foot functionally. With improved mobility, every joint is able to flex, extend and stabilize with movements of the foot.
Did you know there are 33 joints in the foot?
These joints are what allow the foot to conform to the varying textured surfaces of the world. As your foot becomes stronger with improved use of the joints, the arches will become more functional, allowing the ground-up response of the foot to allow muscles in the hips to function optimally. Improved muscle function equals improved strength—both in the feet and the hips!
The more strength you develop in your feet, the less support you'll need from a shoe. A daily mobility and strengthening program may be something as simple as performing a few stretches in the morning before getting out of bed or finishing your day off with some self-instructed foot yoga.
Below are a few suggestions on where to begin. The key is to begin slowly and gently.
Exercises can be performed on a daily basis, either in the morning, evening, or both.
Rolling out the lower leg/calf: with the use of a foam roller or rolling pin or gentle ball (tennis ball), sit on the floor while rolling your lower leg around on the roller/ball. Feel for areas of tenderness. This type of self-soft tissue work improves circulation and helps break down muscle adhesion. Perform 3-5 min /side.
Stretching out the toes: spread your toes over a golf ball, feeling a stretch between your toes. Another option is to individually stretch each toe apart from its neighbor with the use of your hands, feeling a stretch between the toes
Plantar fascia stretch: sitting on your knees, bend at your ankle and allow your toes to tuck under, feeling a big stretch through your big toe (it will be in an extended position). The stretch should be felt through the bottom of your foot. You can also perform this by rolling the bottom of your foot with a tennis ball.
Calf muscle stretch: standing calf stretch, bending at the ankle to improve ankle dorsiflexion. Necessary ankle mobility for walking, running, squatting, and lunging
Foot and ankle strengthening: Big toe isolation: extend and flex big toe independently.
Toe extension: extend and stretch toes as far as you can, then scrunch tightly
Toe walks and heel walks: perform with variable positions including toes facing forward, inward, and outward
Foot tripod: stand on one foot and balance feeling the tripod of your foot (big toe, little toe, and heel). Challenge yourself by doing different reaches with your arms counter your balance.