This is what my day sounds like sometimes: 'What do you think of my new running shoes?', 'That feels amazing, I've been wearing heels all day!', and 'Do you think there is any hope for my bunions?'
This is just the tip of the ice berg... Deep down we all know we need to be looking after our feet, but we don't always know how or what is best for them? Perhaps it is those $300 podiatrist prescribed runners or perhaps it is spending more time in bare-feet. The reality is everybody has different requirements, and I'm not interested in getting into the debate on what footwear is best (unless you ask, and I'll happily give you my point of view based off your current situation...). But what I am interested in is providing a fantastic Pilates experience for our clients, and a massive part of that is getting our feet as healthy as possible.
What are healthy feet? Or perhaps a different question is why should we care about our feet?
Our feet are a major part of our sensory system, alongside of our eyes, skin, and jaw. So if we are spending a large amount of our day in shoes and socks, we don't give our sensory system the chance to experience the varied information it actually thrives on, such as different textures, pressures and temperatures. Each provides specific information up into the brain to create a certain reaction - the more variety we experience, the healthier the variety of reactions we have.
Healthy feet are also supple feet, with joints that are well supported by the connective tissues surrounding them - think muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. It's common knowledge that we have 25% of our bones just in our feet! The beauty of our feet having so many bones and joints is to disperse the force when we contact the ground in preparation for springing us onto our next step. They also to help us grip and move safely through our environment. Often when we wear footwear that is deemed tight or stiff, we restrict the joints' ability to move, impacting on the natural flow of movement from those joints. Added to this, the padding associated with footwear often dulls the force with which we strike the ground. The result? We end up relying too much on the footwear padding, striking the ground with a hard heel or flat foot. This reverberates force up our legs and into our torso rather than letting the foot naturally shock absorb most of the force as it spring loads us into our next step. The lack of use of our feet adequately means that the joints in our feet get stiff, so those few times we are in bare-feet it is so foreign to us that it feels uncomfortable!
Viscous circle right?.... Well the good news is I would love to give you some of my go-to exercises for restoring first mobility and then strength back into your feet.
Step one - feel your feet!
Grab a spiky ball and roll it all around your foot - under, over, the sides, between your toes... the whole thing! Before you do your second side, just walk on the spot for a few minutes and see if you feel any different.
Step two - a great foot massage...
Next is to stand on that spiky ball. Initially just put as much pressure as you feel comfortable under your toes, under your arch, and under your heel. Bonus points: while standing on the ball, bend your knee forward over your toes a few times to stretch your calf muscles, and a few times circling the knee from one side of your foot the the other. This extra bit help to mobilise your ankle joint, thus helping your knees and hips!
If it feels okay, you can upgrade to a small and/or harder ball to do the same thing.
Step three - get hands on.
Finally, it's time to get your fingers into it! Your goal is to try and slide your fingers between your toes, right up until the base of your finger meets the base of your toe! Try this one toe at a time, and then try two, then three, and eventually you should be able to hold all of your toes.
Once you are in, then it's about moving your toe joints by moving your fingers (and toes) in big circles while keep your heel bone still. After a few circles, try to use your toes to squeeze onto your fingers imagining your toes like scissors trying to cut off your finger for 5-10 seconds, then move in a few more circles.
Following this routine, and condensing it down to a streamlined 3-5 minute routine every day will do fantastic things for your feet, and hopefully also help with your knees, hips, and even your back!