Last week I was lucky enough to attend a yoga based workshop all about the foot. As an osteopath, I am often treating the foot and ankle for problems such as plantar fascitis, Achilles tendonitis, ligament sprains and so on but the teacher, Leila's, passion and enthusiasm for how important a well functioning foot is for the whole body took me right back to my uni days and I could hear one tutor repeating every lecture 'No matter what the problem is, always look at the feet first'.
Our feet are much more complex than we often give them credit for.
One human foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. This vast number of joints and muscles tells us that the feet are there to move, they are there to mould and adjust to uneven ground, provide spring and propel us forward efficiently whilst keeping us balanced and upright. If we all took our recommended 10,000 steps a day (*cough cough*) can you imagine the amount of weight, pressure and impact our feet take? Often without complaining. Modern technology is great in providing us with cushioned, supportive footwear, which again I am often recommending to patients, however Leila reminded me of an interesting and important point. Sometimes our shoes may be too supportive/restrictive. As we have just seen the foot is designed to move, strapping them up all day can make them tight and rigid, in itself leading to problems. Take time to walk around bare footed as often as you can, on all different surfaces. This quote sums this up perfectly...
'The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground' Buddha
As part of the workshop Leila invited us to massage our own feet, one at a time, taking a walk around in between feet to notice the difference the massage had made. This for me was great as I know the relief a foot massage can bring, immediately as well as the next morning! You can feel how your foot is contacting the ground so much more and spreading your weight evenly. You get a sense of support back up from the ground and you also notice how your posture has improved, standing taller and straighter. This again brought me back to my foot fanatic uni tutor as well as the underpinning philosophy of osteopathy..
The body is a unit, each part affects each and every other part.
Any small change to the way the foot is functioning can have an impact on the rest of our body. An example that we see in clinic an awful lot is over-pronation or flat feet. Most of us will happily walk around with one, or both, of our arches flattened and it won't cause a problem as our feet are so adaptive. Over time however you may develop pain somewhere else. The flattened foot, if you can imagine it, has effectively created a lengthening of that leg. This will change the position of the pelvis, holding it up on one side. As the pelvis is no longer horizontal the spine has to respond by making small adjustments in order to keep you standing up right and looking straight ahead. It is not just the joints in the leg and spine that need to adjust but also the muscles will either become stretched and weak or shortened and tight depending on their location. As you can see this can set you up for a whole load of different problems to start appearing.
Treatment of the painful area will normally help ease symptoms but for long term improvement and to prevent the problem reoccurring it is always worth looking how the rest of the body is functioning and aiming to improve this as well.
5 tips for self care of the feet
1. As I mentioned above, take time to walk around bare footed and on lots of different surfaces.
2. Self massage: Using your thumbs work in small, deep circles across the sole of the foot. Stretch the toes gently backwards and forwards. Slowly but fairly firmly pull on each toe.
3. Writing the alphabet or your name with your foot is great for getting everything moving as well as getting blood into the area.
4. Balancing on one leg challenges your foot and ankle and awakens sensitive nerve endings that are important for movement (proprioceptive feedback). To make this harder you can try balancing on a wobble board if you have one (a foam pad or cushion is just as good if you don't).
5. Keep your feet supple and strong by scrunching up a towel with your toes or trying to pick up objects as you would with your hands.
If you have any foot problems, or problems that you think may be related to your feet(!), and have any questions please do get in contact by sending me a message or leaving a comment. Leila, the yoga teacher, can be found here.