Education is key when it comes to taking power over your own health and wellness. When you need support, knowing more about how your body works will help you ask the right questions and understand the answers from your medical or wellness team. I look at the role movement can play in your health, wellness and recovery to full and optimal function. The articles are not meant to take the place of medical advice and should not be used as such.

10 Things You Didn't Know About Your Feet

Fascinating facts about your feet that illustrate a 'whole-body' approach to movement.

1. Feet need movement to be healthy

Feet have 26 bones and 33 joints. That is a lot of movement potential! It would be impossible to devise an exercise program for the feet that would move all those joints. Because joints need movement to be healthy, the foot depends on a surface that is varied (lumpy and bumpy). That's right, the ground we walk on can provide our feet with all the movement they need (provided we can access natural surfaces in shoes that don't prevent movement).

2. Our feet read the ground and relays info to the brain

There are 200,000 sensory nerves on the sole of the foot. Okay, that's a best guess scenario - but there are literally hundreds of thousands of them, and they provide a feedback role between the environment and the central nervous system. Removal of this information changes the way we use our muscles and our gait mechanics. Your feet are reading the ground and relaying info to your brain with every step. Wearing stiff soled shoes and walking on flat surfaces dulls this circuit and results in less skill.

3. Muscles in your feet that aren't used much will atrophy and your feet can start to hurt

There are muscles within the foot that move one part of the foot relative to another part called intrinsic muscles. Intrinsic muscles depend on those 33 joints moving in order to be healthy. If you have muscles in your feet that aren't used much, their health suffers and your feet can start to hurt. We want robust strong muscles everywhere (not just in the abs and glutes).

4. Moving your feet well can also improve the health and function of your knees and hips

There are muscles within the foot that connect it to the lower and even upper leg called extrinsic muscles. These muscles move the foot relative to the leg. So moving your feet well can also improve the health and function of your knees and hips! Conversely, movement at the hip and knee can affect the feet.

5. The amazing skin on your feet is a protector

The skin on your feet is a huge overlooked part of their health. You might only consider your foot skin when you get a blister or have a painful callous or corn, but the surface of the sole of the foot can adapt to friction against the ground by becoming thicker and stronger overall, without losing any of that ability to sense what's under it. It's like magic, or leather, because it can protect us from extremes in temperature, sharp stones (to a degree many sharp objects) and still be flexible enough to move in all the ways we need it to. Many programs for foot health ignore this amazing structure.

6. You can strengthen your butt with every step

Full dorsiflexion at the ankle is one of the most important movements you didn't know you were missing. Dorsiflexion is when the top of the foot moves towards the front of your shin. It's common in our culture to be deficient in this movement, due to habits such as shoe wear, sitting, and not utilising a resting squat position. In fact, you can test this right now: drop into a full squat keeping your heels on the ground. If you can’t bend your ankles enough you won’t be able to do a deep squat without falling on your butt! 

This movement is also part of your gait cycle. The foot that pushes off should dorsiflex fully before the heel lifts, but when the heel lifts prematurely, you don't use the full range of motion of your hip leading to the dreaded Flat Butt Syndrome! Gym rats spend a ton of time on glute development, but you can literally strengthen your butt with every step, provided your ankle dorsiflexion is sufficient.

If you are missing dorsiflexion, you will turn out your feet when you walk. This is because when your ankle can't move that much in the direction you are going, your foot will turn out so you can access the sideways movement in the foot instead. In essence, you are exchanging dorsiflexion for pronation. 

This creates a movement through the foot with each step that rolls the top of the foot in and down and compromises (flattens) the arch.

7. The shoes you wear can affect your core

Traditional shoes have a positive heel which means your foot is always pointing downhill. This is a major contributing factor to the lack of dorsiflexion but the side effects of a heel continue: when your foot points downhill you need to tuck your pelvis and lift your ribs to stand. This looks like "good posture" but causes compression in the spine and tugs the front tissues of the body leading eventually to a less reflexive, weaker core. For this reason I recommend "zero drop" shoes that have no difference between the height of the heel and the height of the ball of the foot from the ground.

8. Feet really are the foundation of your health and wellness and a good walking program will enhance it

Whole body health depends on the health and function of your feet. Not all movement is equal. If your feet hurt and you choose an activity like swimming or biking for your cardio so you don’t have to stand on them, you are missing imperative loads that maintain hip bone density, and loads to the pelvic floor that keep it functioning well that come with walking upright in gravity. If they hurt a lot and you become more sedentary, all of your systems will suffer the consequences. Feet really are the foundation of your health and wellness. A good walking program is highly recommended; walking is like winding the clock - your systems all work better when you do it.

9. You can fix your flat feet

Arches are muscle dependent; you can fix your flat feet. Your “fallen” arches are not dependent on bones, the muscles of your feet hold the bones in place to create the arches so you can get them back with stronger feet. 

When you stand, the weight of your body should be organised over the back bones of the foot which are dense and large and meant to be weight bearing, yet most of us carry our weight over the ball of the foot (those positive heels again) which presses the front of the foot into the ground and flattens the arches.

10. Pronation is a good thing - we just have too much of it

Ever been told you're a "pronator" by a shoe salesperson? Pronation is not a bad thing - your foot needs to do it with each step. It’s got a bad rap because most of us are pronated all the time or hyper pronated (pronated too much) creating that flat foot and excessive wear across the plantar fascia. 

Plantar fascia is a flat long sheet of connective tissue on the sole of the foot and muscles attach to it. It also has attachments to the skin on the bottom of the foot. If you move your skin and toes, you are helping to keep the plantar fascia healthy. Wearing shoes that push the toes together prevents this activity. 

I explain all this and much more, provide video examples and exercises in my comprehensive course "Rescue Your Feet" coming soon! Sign up to get notified of the launch and take a step in the right direction!

Thank you so much for reading! 


Categories: Feet