Do you know that our feet is our best buddy in life when it comes to performing daily routines like going to work, attending classes or driving to nearby supermarkets to pick up some groceries. For those who are sportsman or running atheletes, maintaining healthy feet is essential in order to perform at their best. However, many of us had neglect its importance by wearing footwear that does not suit, but rather for the sake of appearance or beauty. Little do we know that they are being “treated badly” and feeling so suffocated, that they have no choice but to send off warning signals “pain”. In fact, with proper care, everyone of us can have healthy and pain-free feet.
Do you know that our feet are remarkable structures make up of 26 bones each, with 36 joints and a complex network of more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments, not to mention blood vessels and nerves. When we consider that the rest of our bodies are supported on these relatively small platforms, then even large feet can seem small compared to the size of the bodies that stand on them.
The foot’s primary arch is raised but not rigid or frozen. The lower leg bones, the tibia and fibula, nestle atop a platform called the talus, tethered into place by a collection of ligaments and tendons in a well-secured arrangement.
In fact, our ability to be supported on top of relatively small platform is due to aligned bones in the feet, as well as throughout the body that balance the distribution of weight into the feet. The toes are active participants in the work of the foot, helping to balance weight as well as aiding in pivoting movements and propelling the body forward. The heel is defined, with the weight of the body aiming though the outside of the foot and heel bone (calcaneus).
There is one interesting fact which many of us are not aware. As a matter of fact, babies and toddlers set the aligned standard for the rest of us. Young children develop strong, vital feet while learning to put weight on them. For many months, babies bounce up and down on their legs while holding on to something, building balanced strength and agility in their feet and legs.
Once babies actually begin walking on their feet, their toes engage deeply with the surface on which they are walking. A pad of fat often hides the height of the arch, giving the impression of flat-footedness. In fact, all babies have well-developed arches as revealed by the height of the foot.
Once walking is mastered, their feet will remain strong and dynamic for the rest of their lives, unless other habits and dependence on improper shoes begin to restrict natural movement of the feet. By the time they are ready to walk on their feet, the leg bones are accustomed to bear weight, with their ankles firmly lashed into place. The toes have had a steady workout through continuous wiggling and having been actively used in crawling and pivoting.
It is recommended that young children learning how to walk should spend as little as possible with their feet inside shoes. If conditions required that shoes be worn, they should be soft and flexible, allowing as much as movement of the toes and arches as possible.
Understanding The Architecture Of The Foot
Arches are an extremely effective means of supporting great weight. When arches of the feet are well-developed, they support flexibility and mobility of the feet. The muscles that are required to keep the arches lifted work to help stabilize the ankle and knee joints.
The 26 bones in each foot are arranged in a precise and complex relationship with each other that provides a landing pad (the talus) for the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula). A well-defined and flexible arch is reflected in the height at the top of the foot.
The bones under the ball of the foot are delicate and birdlike and are not designed to carry the weight of the body. Most of the weight that comes down through the leg bones is sent into the dense, bulky heel bone (calcaneus), which is perfectly designed to catch the weight.
Aligned Feet Versus Misaligned Feet
Misaligned feet create a whole host of problems, not just in the feet themselves but also in the body they are intended to support. Without the support of well-developed arches and stable, secure ankles, problems often occur in the knees, hips, back, shoulders and even neck. Many foot problems find relief when they learn to shift the weight from the balls of the feet onto the heels and to actively use the toes to assist with balance as nature intended.
Some people in the world manage to walk into old age on strong and healthy feet without ever developing modern foot problems such as bunions, hammer toes, heel spurs and plantar fasciitis. Unfortunately, in the more developed parts of the world, these types of problems are not uncommon.
The alignment of the feet is reflected in the relationship of the legs and pelvis and vice versa. Something as seemingly insignificant as the kinds of shoes one wears or various stresses to the feet set the stage, quite literally for whether the body that is carried above is able to participate in a dynamic exchange with the earth.
Thus begins for many people a long, slow descent from being upright and vital to having lost essential support from the bottom up. Disruption of the natural arrangement of the bones of the feet makes it virtually impossible for the body above to be aligned.
- Collapsed Arches
Collapsed arches contribute to a long list of problems that can develop as a result of faulty foundation support. In most cases, the knees are medially rotated (turned inward), causing the ankle to roll in and the leg bones to aim off the top of the ankle platform.
This causes a shear force upon the ankle joint, making it unstable and prone to being twisted and sprained. The knee and hip joints are also vulnerable without solid, aligned support from below. Muscles of the legs are torque and misshapen, with some being chronically shortened, while others are chronically stretched out.
Many feet tend to function more like flippers that slap along the ground when they walk. Without arches, they are unable to provide the body with the shock-absorbing qualities that healthy feet are designed to do.
The toes are un-involved and are of little help in walking. Instead of the weight of the body landing on the heel and being distributed in a balanced way throughout the foot, the foot comes down on the insides of the feet with a deadening effect that disrupts the ability of the body to connect by way of ground reaction force with the earth.
Bunions are a common problem that can cause pain and other problems for many people. They are sometimes treated surgically, with mixed results. It is, however, possible to pursue a determined course of exercise that can gently encourage the bones of the foot to realign.
Some of the other common foot problems include:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Heel spurs
- Claw toes and Mallet toes
Tuck Your Heels Exercise
The following exercise can be done in front of a mirror in order to be able to see the changes taking place in the feet and legs. Wear shorts while performing this exercise helps to see what is happening with the knees.
- Shift the weight of your body into the toes and the ball of the right foot. Loosen the right heel from the floor and rotate the right knee and thigh to the right, bringing the heel in toward the center. Be sure that the toes and ball of the foot do not slide around on the floor, but they stay put when you tuck the right heel under. Also, do not lift the heel high up, only loosen it from the floor enough for it to be able to move.
- Be sure not to lift your toes or the ball of your foot.The heel moves to the center as you rotate your knee to the right, changing the shape of your foot.
- Bring the right heel onto the floor and let your weight come to rest squarely on the heel. It may feel like your weight is on the outside of the foot. Compare the appearance of the left and and right feet. Take a moment to reflect on the differences in how your two legs feel. Which of your leg feels more solid? Which leg feels more actively engaged?
- Your heel is now firmly on the ground, with the weight more to the outside of the heel. Repeat on the left side. Now both feet are solidly planted.
Frequent and regular practice of the steps outlines above can have dramatic results and provide lasting relief from many of the complications of a failure to maintain the natural alignment of the foot and its stable connection with the ground. Bending often and bending well strengthens the muscles that lift the arches and stabilize the ankles.
Healthy feet engage with the ground on which they stand. They serve the body for many decades, and their strength, flexibility and alignment is reflected in the health of the body that stands above them.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of interest in a new trend in footwear called “barefoot technology”. Several brands of footwear had been designed with the intention of protecting the sole of the foot while providing the benefits inherent in running with bare feet. Some of these shoes fit the foot much like a glove, with individual compartments for each toe.
Other shoes have been designed with a rocker bottom to mimic the feet of Masai tribesmen in Africa. While many people feel that these various shoes have been beneficial to them, others have complained of joint pain and other injuries as a result of using them.
It is important to remember that a shoe alone is unlikely to resolve underlying structural problems. In the long run, it is better to learn the rules for inhabiting the body as naturally as possible while wearing shoes that are soft, rather than rigid and that ample space for the toes to remain active within the shoe. This helps to promote healthy and pain-free feet in the long run.
When running, the knees should track to the outside, while the body is led forward by the back of the rib cage and back of the head rising up and forward, not by a lifted chest.
As you can see from the picture, this woman’s feet and legs are the transportation system for her entire body and support the pelvis, spine, rib cage and skull in a balanced relationship that allows her to carry items like this all day, and in fact on a daily basis.
Basics Of Natural Postural Alignment
Learning how to stand or walk by applying the principles of natural alignment will help to ensure that your feet remains healthy and free from foot problems. In fact, it is not that difficult as long as you pay attention and put it into practice, not just once in awhile but continuously, over and over again.
Learning the following basic actions of walking or standing is as good as teaching yourself just like a well-developing toddler. This means that you have to be patient and do not give up. After a period of time, you will realize that your body will begin to adapt to this more natural way of walking and standing, moving easily as one aligned and whole structural body.
Basics 1: How To Stand Correctly
- Stand on active feet with knees rotating outward.
- Bow slightly at the hips until you can see your ankles (anchor the pelvis).
- Relax your belly.
- Release the chest down and in while lifting your back (power button).
- Roll one shoulder at a time onto the top of the rib cage (fasten your shoulders).
- Drop your chin slightly. Do a neck sweep, being sure to pause and release any tension as it rises.
- Breathe in a natural and relaxed way.
Basics 2: How To Walk Correctly
- Lean forward slightly at the hips.
- Relax your chest down and feel your back rising up behind you. Your core will engage.
- Keep leaning until you must take a step to keep from falling.
- The toes of the back foot propel the body forward onto the front foot.
- As the weight comes onto the front leg, the knee bends slightly and aims toward the outside.
- Next, the toes of the front foot push off and move the body onto the other leg as you step forward with the other foot, with the head leading and the now front knee bending slightly outward.
- Use your eyes to look ahead instead of lifting your chin.
- As such, the spine remains aligned while the body moves forward on the legs.
Walking is one of the more difficult changes to relearn, especially if we try to think how to move. This tends to interfere with the natural flow of the movements.
Basics 3: How To Bend Correctly
- Bend knees outward as you fold forward at the hips.
- Pelvis tips forward as pubic bone aims behind.
- Sitz bones extend out behind.
- Torso and spine remain as one continuous column.
- To bend lower, the knees should bend more.
- To come up from bending, press your feet into the ground. Knees and hips both straighten to bring you back up to standing.
- Do not break your spine in its column at any time.
- Do take note that the key to bending is that the spine does not bend but remains straight at all times.
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