Feet Need Exercise

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There are a great many people whose feet hurt, whether this has been called plantar fasciitis or is something with no name it can be a significant problem for ones quality of life.

 

I just heard on NPR that the army is testing out softer boots for the new recruits.  They have reason to believe that a boot with a softer sole and softer upper will reduce stress fractures, infections and tendon-itises.  They’re hopeful that the more comfortable shoes will not diminish the character building nature of boot-camp, but will reduce the injuries that are preventing people from turning into good soldiers.

The medial and lateral arches are clearly visible at the tarsals.

I’ve been pretty far over into the minimal footwear idea for awhile, so I’m feeling really hopeful about this.  The military tends to wield more cultural influence than the latest eye-popping scientific research does. The question in my mind isn’t whether or not we should be wearing stiff, immobilizing apparatus on our feet, but…how did we get here, and why does anyone think it’s healthy or normal?

 

I don’t know the history of shoes, but I do know a bit about feet.  I’d be hard pressed to find anything in the world more architecturally beautiful than the human foot.  It all starts with the bones. Did you know that the design of the hand and the design of the foot follows the same pattern?  What I mean is the progression from the two long bones in the forearm and leg meet the seven blocky bones of the wrist and ankle then go to the five longish bones of the mid-foot and hand and then split into the digits and the bones inside those digits, two for the great toe and thumb and three for the rest of the digits.

 

The foot has an ingenious way of transferring load from the leg to both the medial and lateral arches via the keystone, the first bone that takes compressive loads (called the talus because it’s especially blocky).  

 

And that’s just the bones, with each layer outward it becomes more complex, more clever, more beautiful.

 

So why all these rigid shoes?  Why all this discussion of arch support and ankle support?  Why this belief that feet are naturally weak?

 

There seems to be a growing awareness that sitting in chairs all the time is making people undernourished in the movement department.  People are realizing they can’t be immobile all day without pain and the breakdown of all the tissues that stay strong by having force move through them.  

 

The same goes for feet.  If they don’t get any exercise all day…or for a lifetime…things will break down, muscles will atrophy, tissues will starve. 

 

Whether we clamp the foot into a rigid box or not, it still has to hold us up.  All the body weight doesn’t get shifted to the shoes…it’s still traveling down the leg bones into the foot bones.  A flexible and muscular foot would be able to handle that load better than one that has been packed into an immobilizing box for multiple decades.

 

Feet need a workout, just like the rest of us. 

 

I’ve heard many people say they can’t walk barefoot.  Walking barefoot is great exercise for a foot, but for some especially weakened feet a person might have to start with something less challenging than carrying the entire weight of the body. 

 

Here are some other ideas for foot exercise:

 

  • Moving the foot bones by placing rocks of different shapes under the ball of the foot (the toe end) and putting weight on them is a way to start getting your joint capsules and ligaments used to the stress of moving.
  • Drawing the alphabet with your toes while focusing on making smooth, non-jerky motions is a way to wake up some of the latent fine motor skills and regain independent use of some of the muscles.
  • Standing or sitting and lifting your toes off the floor, all at once or just the big toe, develops strength and motor skills.
  • Placing a towel on the floor and pulling the edges toward the the center by grabbing the towel with your toes. 
  • Standing on one foot.

 

It’s uncomfortable to start exercising when we’ve gotten really out of shape, but if we keep at it the discomfort goes down and we become stronger.  And more importantly, the degree of stress our feet can endure without pain increases.

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