July 7, 2023
As we go through life, most of us take thousands of steps per day. One foot in front of the other, propelling our body forward, up, down, sideways, over obstacles, etc. The foundational piece of all these steps is a very important and complex structure, our foot. Our foot is not simply a big block at the end of our lower extremity, it is beautiful design of many bones and articulations (joints), muscles, tendons, fascia, and ligaments that work together to create efficient energy transfer up through our leg and into the rest of our body. Below is a picture showing you the intricacies of the joints of the foot:
Often, the largest reason we are experiencing foot pain is due to the lack of mobility, stability, and ability to function efficiently at this complex structure at the bottom of our body. And the majority of this is caused by the footwear many of us are used to using and the fact that we don’t use our feet as they were designed. One area that many people could benefit from is trying to spend more time barefoot. This will help make the foot more mobile and inherently stable as you are demanding more of its own structural support without the aid of large/stable shoes. This is not something that you should do too quickly as it can be too big of a stimulus for our feet to handle from being used to supported shoes. Taking some dedicated time each day to walk around barefoot in the house or out in the yard can be a great place to start, perhaps even just a few minutes. Then slowly increase over time as you tolerate the time better. This can be one of the simplest ways to start to strengthen the foot.
Another great way to reinvigorate your foot back to life is work on toe dissociation. Like our hands, our feet and toes should have good overall dexterity or ability to move separately from each other. Because we start to not use our feet much over time as we are stuck in shoes more and more, many of us lose this inherent ability to control our feet and toes. 3 simple exercises you can do are as follows:
These are some simple movements to recapture control over the most important structure in your body when it comes to walking, the foundation to thousands of steps we take to move us throughout our day. They can be frustrating at the start; they were for me. But keep practicing and you will improve!
Another very important aspect to foot pain relief and foot health is adequate ankle flexibility, specifically, the ability to bend the ankle. This is called ankle dorsiflexion and a simple way to check it for yourself is to go near a wall and stand with the toes of one foot against the wall. Without your heel rising off the ground, you should touch your knee to the wall, which should be very easy at that distance. Then slowly work your way back until you find a distance where you can no longer keep your heel on the ground and touch your knee to the wall. If this is not AT LEAST your own hand width from the wall at your maximum distance then this is likely a major contributor to foot pain and you can work on stretching this, making the test become the exercise.
Finally, if you do not have adequate calf strength/endurance this can create increased stress in areas throughout the foot that lead to pain. A simple way to test this is to stand near a wall with both hands on the wall for balance. Stand on both foot and raise up onto toes to see how high you can get. Then, stand on 1 foot and raise up onto your toes as high as possible and if this is the same as both feet, continue until you cannot anymore. If you can’t get the same height as both feet when on 1 then you get 0 for a score. Below are normal values for ages 20-89:
In conclusion, foot pain is a multi-faceted issue and there are many strategies that are very common for people to use. However, this article focused on ways to help improve our overall foot/ankle health and make a long term investment in our foot pain relief and overall foot health. Get back in touch with your foot and its amazing capabilities, ensure your ankle flexibility is up to normal standards and ensure you have good calf strength and endurance. If you do these 3 simple things, you are on your way to happy/healthy feet and stronger steps every day!