4 Mistakes You Make With Your Feet

Hindsight is 20/20 so we can't blame ourselves for what we didn't know when making prior choices around foot health

In yesterday's post I mentioned that most people (myself included at the time) ignore their feet. That's so easy to do; in the first place, they are covered up with socks and shoes, often from the moment we take our first step! Then we get a lot of advice, conflicting advice (or sometimes no advice at all) about what to do about feet that hurt, or how things that are a problem might be because of our feet and we end up chasing our symptoms for years! It's so frustrating. And while it's nice that I can supply a list of interesting facts about feet, it isn't something that is common knowledge, and if it was, how to apply that knowledge so that we can help ourselves! I wish we learned this in health class - it would have been so much more helpful to learn general facts about how our bodies work (beyond a 2D picture of a uterus that it turns out looks nothing like a real uterus). Why don't our bodies come with a manual?

In my experience as a teacher who prioritises foot health, I've heard this one thing from clients over and over: I wish I'd known this sooner. 

It's heartbreaking, because you don't know what you don't know - how are you supposed to act on information you learned decades after you wish you had? You just move forward with it now, because (and I'm a prime example of this at 61) - it's never too late to make improvements. And we've all made "mistakes", often the same ones, which is understandable given we all grew up in the same culture with the same shoe choices, the same exercise choices and similar movement habits.

Yesterday I asked on my social media accounts "what was one of the biggest mistakes you made in terms of your foot health?" and I got many great answers, which I categorized as belonging to one of these points:

      • never going barefoot, going barefoot too much, going barefoot too soon without adequate preparation, going minimal in less than ideal situations such as a thin sole on hard city pavement
      • wearing high heels, wearing shoes that were too a size too small, wearing positive heels that aren't necessarily high, shoes with stiff soles, shoes that were too narrow
      • some didn't rehab from injury or surgery, whether that was by choice or because it wasn't offered and they didn't know where else to turn for help.
      • not surprisingly, many mentioned depending on orthotics for many years, sometimes decades, before deciding they weren't helping.

      Let's expand and look at those issues.

      1. Barefoot/Minimal Shoes - transitioning too quickly

      Minimal shoes is something I recommend for most people, after adequate preparation. So I know the frustration that comes from adopting a practice because it's been sold to you as "healthier" only to result in pain and injury. Sometimes people don't realise their feet are held together by the shoes they wear, the lack of integrity not apparent until the structure is removed and unchecked spread suddenly resulting in things like bunions and flat arches. Not everyone is made for minimal shoes in OUR environment, sometimes you have to make choices that preserve your feet. In the upcoming course "Rescue Your Feet" I recommend starting with (and maybe even staying with) zero drop shoes that have no heel, but still have structure and cushioning, and going barefoot in controlled environments such as in the house and eventually on safe outdoor surfaces.

      2. Traditional Shoes/Positive Heeled Shoes - wearing them!

      On the other end of the scale, wearing traditional shoes for so long - especially shoes that compromise foot function such as stiff soled shoes, pointed or narrow toes, heels, and high heels (because sexy!), or stuffing your size 11 feet into a size 9 or 10 (that was me - and it's still hard to find size 11 - many shoe manufacturers stop at size 10). Often we are forced to make a "best case scenario" decision: "this shoe doesn't have a heel but it's narrow," "this shoe is wide but it has a heel" - and shoes are expensive! Most women have a cupboard full of shoes they've worn once and can never wear again, or wear only on some occasions. Sometimes (and this is awful) women have to wear heels to work to meet a dress code or only feel that they are professional if they are wearing heels. It's newsworthy when a celebrity walks the red carpet in flats or holding her torturous shoes in her hand. Most of us want to have comfortable feet, why is that so hard? Is that such a hard thing to ask? When will the shoe industry use lasts that resemble human feet? Or when will the minimal shoe industry create shoes that look good on the red carpet?

      3. Therapy after Injury or Surgery - where to turn?

      I've broken toes before (several times) and never splinted them, and they healed crooked. I've broken bones in my foot and ankle and worn a cast on the left foot twice for a total of 25 weeks (17 years apart), and not once was I offered physio (granted, I would have had it with insurance). Luckily I do know a bit about feet and was able to do a lot for myself, but what if you don't? Dr. Google isn't always the best source for information. Often we are "done" when the cast comes off and apart from one or two follow-ups with the surgeon's assistant, that's it. In my course "Healthy Moving for Bunions" I am not anti-surgery but I do warn that if you elect to have it, it might be prudent to prepare and then to follow up with exercises that ensure it doesn't return. You would do that for a hip or knee replacement, and yet if it's a smaller joint, we don't afford it the same respect. Every joint is important and plays a role. And I believe there is a role for a movement plan after PT that helps you integrate your body after years of compensation.

      4. Orthotics - do you really need them?

      This is a big one. And orthotics is a big industry. I've heard that some offices that sell them do so on commission and make a ton of money, because custom orthotics are expensive and require fittings and only last so long. I know there are exceptions and a proper place for orthotics, and some people require them (for example, true leg length discrepancy, or after sectioning the plantar fascia - ouch). But those orthotics you get because you "pronate" (see number 10) are seldom necessary. If you've worn them a long time, it might be a good idea to prepare your foot for not having them, much as you would prepare for a more minimal shoe. Your foot has come to depend on that structure and form holding it in a specific position and if you ditch it suddenly your foot might not have the resources. Some people can go straight to minimal, or orthotic free overnight and not suffer any consequences, but that doesn't mean you can. You need to know how to assess your current foot strength.

      So you are probably in good company if any of those resonate with you. We've all been there, not through any fault of our own, but because we played the hand we were dealt (with our feet). Rescue Your Feet is like the manual to your feet you wish you had all along and with the exercises and information you will learn in the course, I hope you will be able to put together some of the missing pieces and move forward with your foot health in an empowered way. It's my intention to give you the tools you need to move towards a healthier you and not depend on me, an orthotic or Dr. Google again. Sign up to learn more when it launches later this spring. 

      Categories: Feet