Do You Have Happy Feet?

Are you like me and are among the many active adults who suffer from chronic foot pain such as achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis? And, has your conditioned worsened after a visit to a doctor who prescribed custom orthotics? If not, you can stop reading here. But if these artificial devices did not help, or even worsened, your foot pain, may find it worthwhile to continue reading.

Today, most people have worn shoes since birth. As a result many of us experience f oot weaknesses that are caused by a lifetime of wearing overly supportive shoes and insert devices. According to Dr. William Rossi, DPM, a lifetime of wearing shoes which create an un-natural gait, have afflicted humans with strains and stresses by denying us our natural form and ease of movement head to foot.

One of the primary problems with shoes that cause pain in the foot, and beyond, is the narrow toe box that prevents the natural spread of toes created by tight toe adductors and weak toe abductors. As a result toes have lost much of their natural dexterity, which should be equal to that of your fingers. This loss of dexterity caused by atrophied foot musculature, especially the big toe (hallux), can be the root cause of many foot problems, including plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis.

Might your unused foot muscles be causing your foot pain? To start you should check the dexterity of your foot. Remove your shoes. Stand with your weight stacked on your heels. Lift your big toe (hallux) while keeping the remaining four toes on the floor. Then, sequentially lift each of the remaining toes to your smallest. When all five toes are lifted, in reverse sequence drop each toe in order (5th metatarsal to hallux) pausing briefly between each movement. If you are among the many people who found this quite difficult you should consider a program for improving the strength and function of your feet.

Limited research is showing that by improving foot function by integrating your feet back into your life you will have more natural gait, stronger feet and less foot pain. There are many foot strengthening exercises and self-therapy regimes you can use to improve your foot function. I am going to describe just a few that I have found to be quite effective.

1. Toe Lifts. As described above practice this exercise until your movements are fluid.

2. Plantar Fascia self massage. Sitting with one leg crossed over your knee. Hold you heel in the palm of opposite hand with thumb on the sole of your foot where the arch meets your heal. Massage gently across the width of the foot. With the other hand gently raise and lower your big toe from the first metatarsal joint. Be sure to do this gently. If moving your big toe is quite painful and range of motion is severely limited you may need to consult a professional to help improve mobility.

3. Toe abduction. Standing position with weight stacked on heels spread your toes as wide as possible without allowing them to lift. Hold for a few seconds. Release and repeat 6-8 times.

4. Toe Pickups. This will help improve your toe flexibility. Create a pile of 8-10 marbles. From a seated position, using your toes pick up one marble at a time and make another pile. Work up to three sets.

5. Toe Rises. From a standing position, rise up so you are standing on your toes. Hold for 10 seconds. Release and repeat for 10 reps. Work up to 3 sets.

6. Toe flexor stretch. From a standing position, place on leg behind you with the top of your foot on the ground. Slowly move your ankle toward the ground (plantar-flexion). Hold as long as possible working up to one minute total. Stop if your toes cramp. Do this on both feet.

7. Myofascial release. Roll a golf of lacrosse ball across the bottom of your foot for several minutes each day. Focusing on any painful spots by rolling for 15 seconds or until pain is reduced by 50%. Also, roll your calf's soleus muscle located in mid calf just below the gastrocnemius, the large double headed muscle that makes up the top of the calf. Do up to six times per day until pain abates.

8. Pressure point therapy. Self massage your foot from the ankle, to outside edges across the sole of your foot. Apply a small bit of pressure from your hand on each painful spot for 5-10 seconds. Repeat this twice a day.

After a few weeks of exercising your feet and your feet are happier, it is time to think about joining the barefoot revolution and changing your footwear to that which is more spacious and flat. Many companies are creating minimalist footwear - shoes that allow more natural biomechanics while protecting feet from modern surfaces. This includes companies from Vibram Five Fingers to Nike Free. Reebok, New Balance, Merrell and many others have barefoot shoe lines as well. If you do think the more minimalist shoes are right for you, this trainer recommends introducing them into your life gradually and in slow doses.


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