The greatest challenge in most endeavours is usually taking the first step. And so the dance begins – all the rest is choreography.
Which part of your body works hardest?
No, you may think it’s your brain, but actually it’s those things on the other end of you – your feet – that cop the greatest abuse. Virtually all day, everyday they struggle to propel and shlep your body around (and if you’re overweight, the abuse is even greater). In the course of your day, on average, you will take several thousand steps, and in your lifetime you will walk around the world four times.
Your pedal extremities consist of 26 bones and 33 joints. They also contain about a quarter of a million sweat glands (so now you know why your feet smell).
The various muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons within the feet cannot function without an adequate supply of blood. In that regard, because the feet are the most distal part of the body from the heart, and to add insult to injury, because of the virtually constant pressure on them, their blood supply is compromised, which in turn reduces their ability to function and to heal in the event of injury.
Structure and function
The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.
Leonardo da Vinci
Architects and engineers appreciate the role of the arch in supporting heavy loads. The same principles apply to the structure of the human body. The feet are the dynamic foundation on which the body is built, providing it with a firm but fluid footing on which to stand and propel itself. The foot has two major arches which are designed to withstand large loads and distribute the weight of the body (plus any extra load that you may be shouldering) over the feet. However, unlike a static arch, the arches of the foot are dynamic (i.e. they are flexible). As such, they are not only able to adjust to changing terrain and the continual changes in the disposition of the upper body, but they also enable locomotion by exerting powerful propulsive force.
If these arches collapse, then your shock absorbers can’t work properly and the whole of the upper body is affected. This can have detrimental longterm consequences for the spine, contributing to back pain and disc herniation.
Keep your feet on the ground, your eyes on the stars
The moral of the story is that you should acknowledge and respect your feet (and even love them). After all, these over-loaded (how’s your weight and BMI by the way?), long-suffering and downtrodden appendages most probably have to also endure the ignominy of being squeezed into constrictive and unnatural footwear. And let’s not mention high-heels.
So, stop for a moment, take the load off your feet, and take off your shoes and socks. Hey, stop reading – just do it!
Like what you see? Probably not. The general attitude is “out of sight, out of mind”, so if you can’t see the problem it doesn’t exist.
Aesthetics aside, what about their general utility: are your physical foundations strong, flexible and pain free? If not, then over time they can and will lead to accelerated wear and tear on the rest of the body.
Your feet started out life as soft, flexible and beautiful, so what happened to them on their journey from the cradle to the grave? The load they’ve had to bear and the various demands placed on them by your daily activities take their inevitable toll. As such, your feet are subject to strains, sprains, dislocations, and fractures. So, it’s no wonder that your arches have fallen, or that you have bunions, callouses or any one of the hundred or so problems that can afflict the feet.
Injuries can result from external factors such as wearing the wrong types of shoes – they need to be comfortable, provide good traction, protect the foot, and support the ankle. As a further consideration, if you play sport, then you need to consider the track surface underfoot.
Then there are the biomechanical factors at play, namely your technique. Muscles and ligaments may be weak, hypertonic or imbalanced, thereby leading to inefficient and overtaxing movement patterns; or to joint problems such as stiffness, hypermobility and instability.
And let’s not forget the achilles tendon. In essence, this powerful tendon stores and releases elastic energy for walking, running and jumping. Problems with the Achilles are common and debilitating, and are often due to chronically tight calf muscles from over-training or too much running. Another common cause of this is high-heels. You may think they look sexy, but I assure you that being crippled and in pain is not sexy, and definitely not worth the price.
Sprained ankles are the most common musculoskeletal injury treated by doctors. An unnatural twisting of the ankle joint can happen when the foot is planted awkwardly, when the ground is uneven, or when excessive force is applied to the joint. Ankle sprain prevention can be as simple as wearing the right shoes or as complicated as balance training exercises.
But just because you’re experiencing issues such as pain or disability with your feet doesn’t mean that the cause is the foot itself. For example, if the knees or hips are not functioning properly, or the spine and posture are misaligned, then the feet are subject to abnormal loads and will suffer the consequences.
Above and beyond problems within the foot itself, disorders of the foot can also be the root cause of symptoms elsewhere in the body, such as back problems. The feet are often indicators of disease – for instance, ailments like neural, metabolic and circulatory disorders tend to show the first symptoms at the feet.
Dam bones, den bones
The lyrics of the song “Dem bones, dem bones” are instructive – albeit in a humorous vein – about the interconnectivity of the feet and the rest of the body. In that regard, the wholistic therapy of
Foot Reflexology is based on the observation that all of the internal organs as well as the musculoskeletal structures, are reflected in and have corresponding points in the foot. Acupuncture is based on a similar understanding. In other words, the feet are a microcosm of the body, so that the body can be tonified and treated via the points in the feet.
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Viewing the body in electromagnetic terms, we are a complex bioelectric organism, and like any electric circuit, if the earth return line is broken or blocked, then the circuit becomes overloaded and will malfunction. In the body, those malfunctions manifest as disease and disability. From the perspective of Eastern medicine, the foot plays a vital role in the grounding process.
Positive steps to foot care
Walking is universally regarded as the best activity for health and fitness – running, on the other hand is not. The loads placed on the ball of the foot and the toes are very high, and can exceed four times that of your body weight. Compounding this is the series of shocks that are transmitted to the spine, so, if you’re experiencing back pain or disc issues, consider how the use of your feet is causing or compounding this.
Soaking your feet in warm, salty water for ten minutes a day is very relaxing and tonifies the whole body.
As a final thought, washing and massaging another person’s feet is powerful therapy. As written in the Bible – After Jesus finished washing the feet of his disciples, he said to them: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.