How often do you notice your feet on any given day?
Barring any foot pain or injuries, I’m guessing that your feet rarely ever make it to the hundreds of concerns passing through your head.
If that’s the case, allow me to let you in on an insider tip: Your foot health is more instrumental to your overall health and performance than you think.
More than just body parts that carry us from one location to another, our feet carry out several roles that have a ripple effect on how we function.
Here’s why the feet are so crucial to alignment and movement, and concrete ways for you to start minding and loving your feet more.
Bones subdivided into regions called the hindfoot, midfoot, and forefoot comprise the foot. The hindfoot has two bones, the ankle and heel bones, the former of which is connected to the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula). The latter, meanwhile, is attached to the ankle bone and is the largest bone in the foot.
Meanwhile, the midfoot is constituted by 5 tarsal bones that form the foot’s arch. Finally, the forefoot is formed by the phalanges (14 small bones making up the toes) and the metatarsals (5 long bones connected to the toes and midfoot).
Joints attach these bones to each other and protect and cushion them from friction. Tendons, on the other hand, join the bones to muscles. Ligaments hold these tendons and joints in place. One example is the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that provides support to the foot’s arch.
Deep and superficial fascia also run along the entire length of the foot. They separate, connect, and provide structure for the muscles. They also influence the blood supply, lymphatics, and innervation of the foot.
With around 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, ligaments, fascia, and muscles, the foot is one of the most complex body structures. These many moving parts help the feet execute their many roles, including:
- supporting our weight,
- absorbing shock from walking and running,
- propelling our bipedal movement,
- informing us about our environment and our placement in it,
- and adapting to uneven terrain.
Healthy feet are necessary for good health and optimal sports performance. Let’s take a closer look at how they impact both:
As the feet serve as our body’s foundation, they are crucial to the condition of the structures they support. Knee, hip, spine, and shoulder problems are likely to develop when the foot is misaligned.
Moreover, foot problems often come with debilitating pain, severely impacting quality of life. And because we need our feet for mobility and independence, any foot complication can quickly cause psychological strain as well.
Several studies report that individuals with foot pain are more likely to report knee, hip, and back pain, as well as depression. They also scored much lower on health-related quality of life questionnaires than controls, even after adjusting for factors like age and sex.
The Feet’s Impact on Sports Performance
Great proprioception is necessary for anyone to excel in sports. Coordinated movement is only possible with this sixth sense, which tells us about our body’s position relative to our environment.
It’s a good thing that the feet, being our body’s first and constant contact with the ground, have lots of proprioceptors. Remember the plantar fascia? This part of the foot in particular is rife with these sensory receptors that collect information to guide our next movement.
Good body mechanics are also essential to success in sports. And since most of our movements emanate from the feet, it’s crucial to have great foot alignment. Having flat feet or high arches is known to put stress on the tissues, leading to lower limb injuries.
With the feet being so important to sports, many athletes use orthoses such as insoles to optimize their foot alignment and balance. They also employ these tools to improve the plantar fascia’s sensory reception.
What do healthy feet look like?
Now that we’ve established just how important the feet are, let’s talk about the hallmarks of a healthy foot.
- No pain. Healthy feet don’t hurt! Pain is almost always a sign of a foot problem, whether from misalignment or a systematic illness.
- No discoloration. Healthy feet should look pink all throughout, without any blotches of white or dark colors.
- Little to minimal calluses, and no corns.
- Smooth, flat, and pink nails. Discoloration in the toenails usually indicates a fungal infection or poor blood flow. Meanwhile, inward-curving toenails suggest decreased lung function.
- No dry or cracked skin. While the skin on our feet is thicker than anywhere else on the body, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for it to be dry or cracked. These, too, are tell-tale signs of fungal infection.
Good alignment is also important for your foot to bear weight and move with efficiency and without pain. Ideally, it meets the following criteria:
- The heel is in line with the leg.
- The forefoot is in line with the hindfoot.
- All toes are straight. No toe bends towards or crosses over another, and no toes curl or bend.
- The toes are spread wide.
- The foot has a normal arch. When standing, you can slide your three middle fingers underneath the inside of your foot.
- The foot points straight ahead. When standing, your foot should not point inward or outwards.
The average American takes 3,000 to 4,000 steps every day, totaling over a million steps each year! This constant mechanical stress we put our feet under, along with physiological and pathological factors, changes our feet as we age.
Here are some differences you may observe on your feet in middle age:
Most people believe that our feet get larger over time. However, our feet actually stop growing after puberty. Some people move up a size simply because their feet have become wider due to acquired flat feet.
As we age, our ligaments lengthen, our tendons lose water content, and our cartilage wears down. These are all factors that contribute to the collapse of the arch. This painful condition is most likely to affect women over 40, pregnant women, and individuals suffering from arthritis and diabetes.
Another consequence of aging is the plantar fascia’s reduced sensitivity to sensory input. This reduction in sensation leads to impaired proprioception and balance.
The foot is also the first to be affected by poor circulation due to conditions like diabetes and vein diseases, which usually accompany aging. Slower blood flow, along with neuropathy, makes the feet numb.
Our body’s production of collagen and elastin dwindles over time, making our skin drier. Dry skin leads to cracking, which increases the risk of bacterial and fungal infections.
Collagen and elastin are also responsible for padding the bottoms of our feet, so you may find walking or running to be more painful as you get older.
The pain arising from the above-mentioned changes hampers physical activity, further worsening foot health. Impaired sensation in the foot is dangerous too, as it masks underlying foot problems.
Here are some simple things you can do to alleviate the complications brought about by these changes:
- Walk barefoot to better engage your toes and muscles, improving your foot mechanics. Walking on sand and dipping your toes in rice are great for heightening sensory input and gaining foot strength as well.
- Skip wearing trendy but painful shoes. Stick to practical and supportive footwear, but not necessarily those with excessive cushioning. Make sure to shop for shoes in the afternoon, to accommodate the swelling that happens throughout the day.
- Train your toes with silicone separators. This tool is great for aligning your toes and re-educating their muscles, nerves, and fascia.
- Move more. Studies suggest that physical activity can help make the foot’s arch higher and stronger.
- Moisturize your feet to prevent them from drying up and cracking.
Also, be mindful of the following tips to improve your alignment:
- Walk and stand with your feet straight ahead.
- When standing, feel all your toes and the center of your heel in contact with the floor, and apply equal pressure to the balls of your feet.
- When walking, strike your heel softly and move through your entire foot, using your toes to propel you forward.
- Be mindful of aligning your kneecap with your 2nd and 3rd toe.
Take care of your feet, and your feet will take good care of you.” Four decades of clinical and therapeutic experience has only proved this saying to be true, and that’s why minding the feet is the first of our Six Essentials. You can read more about my experience and more tips for healthier feet here.
We put high regard for the feet in every single exercise. Our unique sequences are designed to reduce tenderness and restore function in the feet, thereby helping to relieve fatigue, increase energy, and improve digestion.
We also use specialized equipment for stimulating and organizing the feet’s fascia. The Rev6 Pipes are a big hit with our clients, who experience enhanced balance, stability, and alignment after use.
So, if you’re new to Rev6 and want your feet to carry you to a healthier, more active life, check out our foundation class here!
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