Improve your posture by improving flexibility in your feet
Feet. We wrap them up, squeeze them into narrow shoes, and spend billions on technology to better support them. Even though they carry your entire body weight, for your entire life, you hardly give them any thought – until they start aching.
The intricacies of your foot
Our feet are a lot more complex than we give them credit for. Each foot is made up of 33 joints, 28 bones and more than 112 tendons and ligaments. They are your primary contact with the earth, feeling their way through urban jungles, forests, and sandy beaches. The way your feet adjust to these environments can mean the difference between just a niggle in your knee, or chronic lower back pain.
The mechanics of walking
In a healthy walking pattern, we look for a few key things. At every moment in your stride, certain adjustments need to happen, to make sure a slight limp doesn’t turn into a chronic pain or injury.
Stage one: heel contact as the heel slides out to the side and the foot will collapse to the floor.
Stage two: rotation starts, and the body weight is about to come down on the foot.
Stage three: the rotational forces change direction and the arch of the foot starts to lift and lock. Stage four: the foot now becomes a rigid structure to toe-off, and catapult the body forward onto the next heel strike.
All this happens thousands of times a day, without you even thinking about any of it! If at any stage in this process, your foot’s motion doesn’t happen in the most streamlined way, the joints above or below will take more strain and cause stress and strain on muscles and tendons. This ripple effect up the chain of bones and joints is what we call compensation, creating undue forces and pressure where it’s not supposed to be.
It all starts with your feet
The joints and muscles of your foot act like a mini- trampoline or web, wrapping around uneven surfaces, and adjusting to help balance your body. And the most flexible part of this ‘trampoline’ is your toes.
To get a better appreciation for how this works, have a look at your feet. Take your shoes and socks off, and take note of these:
- Can you wiggle your toes, separate them, point them and flex them?
- Can you move your toes individually?
- Which toes are easier to move?
- Which toes seem ‘stuck’?
The more your toes can move and stretch individually, the better. Once the bones of your toes move, the muscle stretches and when it does, you get full use out of the foot’s ability to support you. If your toes are stuck, this stuckness impacts on your entire movement-system.
Imagine you wear fancy shoes every day. These shiny leather boots squash your toes together for at least 8-12 hours. Since your toes can’t move, your ankles need to do some of their work, which impacts on your calves, your shins, your knees, your hips. your spine all the way to your shoulders and neck! Yes, a restriction in your pinky toe can travel all the way to your neck!
Free your feet to support your body
The more your feet can move and adapt to their environment, the better for your whole body. This doesn’t mean you should start with barefoot running: your body will need time to adapt, so we need to start slow.
The steps toward happy feet
- Try changing the sensory stimulation of your feet: if you live in a city, head to the grass, fine sand, pebbles or uneven soil, instead of concrete. Even try hot or cold surfaces. The texture-change improves your feet’s ability to pick up sensation, which helps them adapt to their environment more effectively.
- Do the toe jam: wriggle them, wave them, separate them, scrunch, point or flex.
- Yoga toes are great for a more passive stretch. These devices help stretch the toes, creating space for the joints to separate and the muscles to stretch. Wear them whilst watching your favourite series or relaxing in the bath.
- Ankle circles. Take a break from your work, and try doing these. But they can be more tricky than you think! Try to keep the circle only for the ankle joint: keep the leg still, as well as the toes. You’ll notice it’s hard to keep the movement just in the ankle, but it’s important training for optimal mobility of your feet. Repeat daily, 10 rotations clockwise and anti-clockwise.
- Big toe down, little toes up, little toes down, big toe up. This is a little game, testing some complex control and skill. Use a gentle touch, with your hand, to help keep the toes down when they should, just to start you off and repeat each sequence 6 times. Eventually, you should be able to move each toe individually.
Practice the toe jam daily and walk your way into a healthy stride. Remember, this is not a program to treat or cure any existing complications or pain. If you are unsure, get in touch with us, and we can tailor a program to fit your unique body mechanics.