Put Your Best Foot (Straight) Forward
by Kathy Kleiver, Pilates Teacher at Bodytree Studio
Have you ever been behind a truck that appears to be driving at an odd angle even though it’s traveling straight forward? Or perhaps you’ve noticed a car with wheels that tilt inward or outward when viewed from the front or the back, and you think, “That can’t be good for the tires!”? You’re right: it’s not! These are signs a vehicle is out of alignment and needs to be serviced. Let these issues go and they’ll likely cause uneven and/or premature tire wear, steering wheel vibration, or a pulling sensation to the left or right making it harder to control the vehicle, any of which can ultimately pose a safety risk.
Now take a moment to stand up and walk a few steps, then stop and look down at your own feet. Yes…now! Are your feet pointing mostly straight forward, or is one (or both) angled in or out from your centerline? Just as wheel imbalance causes additional wear and tear on a car, foot imbalance can lead to bigger issues in our bodies that can compromise our health. There are obvious ailments like bunions and bone spurs, corns and calluses. But did you stop to think that if your feet aren’t working properly, your ankle, knee and hip joints can be adversely affected, having to create compensatory movements? Or that something as seemingly innocuous as your choice in shoes can lead to arthritis, decreased bone density and nerve damage?
Thanks (mostly) to Katy Bowman, MS, a biomechanist, author, blogger and podcaster, I’ve become obsessed with foot health. Her insightful book, Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet, was eye-opening to me, having myself suffered from foot problems and pain over the years. I can honestly say that incorporating a few of her recommendations and guidelines into my life the last six months has had a positive impact not only on my feet, but on my entire body.
Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from her book:
Good body alignment begins with properly aligned feet.
Start taking notice of the position of your feet when you’re standing (i.e. in line at the grocery store, waiting for a taxi…) and when you’re walking (i.e. to your car, on a treadmill, down steps…). The more they both point straight ahead, the less likely you are to experience unnecessary wear and tear on your body.
25% of the bones, muscles and nerves in our bodies reside in or are dedicated to our feet.
Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments! Wow! But when was the last time you intentionally exercised your feet, aside from all you Pilates peeps who dutifully come to reformer classes that specifically incorporate footwork into every session? Seems everyone is so focused on bulging biceps and Kardashian-like butts that they overlook the feet entirely, not realizing how important they are to our overall health and well-being.
Our feet are designed to be nearly as dexterous as our hands.
This is perhaps my favorite “aha! moment” from Katy’s book. She asks how our hands and fingers would have developed, or probably wouldn’t have, if we’d started wearing restrictive mittens at an early age, thus inhibiting the development of intrinsic muscles. Yet many of today’s footwear options, including but not limited to thick-soled children’s shoes, over-supportive trainers, and pointy-toe-box dress shoes, are doing just that: creating weak and underdeveloped foot muscles, thus placing unnecessary and unhealthy loads elsewhere in our bodies.
Our postural and walking patterns are learned by watching those around us.
Parents beware! If you sit/stand with a certain posture (i.e. right foot turned out, neck thrust forward…), there’s a good chance your child will start mimicking you around age four and could end up with similar patterns. What better reason to ensure you’re paying attention to your feet and posture?
The higher the heel, the more pelvic thrust, which is NOT a good thing.
Sorry ladies, but those sexy high heels aren’t doing you any favors. Yes, I love my Louboutins…but in small doses. Any positive heeled shoes—this includes men’s dress shoes, too—place undo burden on the front of the feet, which weren’t designed to bear the brunt of our body weight. Not only does this misalignment negatively affect our posture, causing potential back pain, but it can also lead to plantar fasciitis and hammertoes. Is it worth it???
Flip flops cause our toes to grip unnaturally.
When I moved to the Middle East, I traded my closet of towering heels for comfy flip flops, thinking I was doing myself a favor. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Any shoes without backs, including flip flops, mules, slides, etc. require us to “grip” the shoes with our toes to keep them from falling off. This gripping, over time, shortens the muscles in the toes, which eventually decreases the range of motion in our foot joints, affecting our gait.
While I realize most of you have neither the inclination or inherent geekiness that I possess to spend hours obsessing about your feet, if you walk away from this article with nothing more than a slightly increased awareness of how your foot alignment and shoe choices can impact your body, that’s a good start. Gleaming skyscrapers rely on solid foundations to soar above a city, and our own bodies depend upon strong and healthy feet to carry us through life.
If you want to learn more about the feet and/or alignment and posture, check out any of Katy Bowman’s books or her award-winning blog and podcast, Katy Says.
Kathy Kleiver teaches group reformer and jump board classes and private sessions at Bodytree. There are just a few spaces left in her Pop Up Circuit class on September 15. Email [email protected] for more details and to book your spot. Finally, stay tuned for more info about Kathy’s upcoming Bodytree workshop dedicated solely—pardon the pun!—to feet.
Image via MindBodyGreen