How often do you think about your feet on a given day? If you are a reflexologist, the answer is quite a lot! However, for the everyday person, the feet are likely just a part of the body that helps you get from place to place.
Since the feet are all the way at the bottom of the skeleton, they serve as a foundation for the rest of the body. Just like a house requires regular inspection of the foundation to help prevent future damage, so too do the feet need regular attention to help them do their best job and prevent injury to other areas of the body. So let’s explore the feet and how to keep our body’s foundation strong.
The foot is made up of about 26 bones. The foot’s bone structure is quite similar to the structure of the hand in that the bones are broken up into three categories: in this case, the tarsals, the metatarsals, and the phalanges.
The uniquely shaped seven tarsal bones, or anklebones, snugly and perfectly fit together like a puzzle. The largest of these bones is the calcaneus, also known as the heel bone.
The five long, slender bones connecting the tarsals to the phalanges, or toe bones, are called metatarsals. If you gently press your fingers along the tops of your feet, you can feel the metatarsals like hard ridges under your skin.
The toe bones and finger bones share the name phalanges. Amazingly, there are 14 bones in the toes of each foot. How tiny they must be! There are two bones in the big toe and three in each of the other toes.
These bones form several arches, which act as shock absorbers when you walk or run. The most visible and well-known arch is on the medial (inside) blade of the foot, running from the inner edge of the heel to the big toe joint. However, there are several other arches, including one that runs from the outside edge of the heel to the pinkie toe joint along the lateral (outside) blade of the foot, and some transverse arches that run horizontally across the foot from the lateral (outside) edge to the medial (inside) edge.
The plantar fascia, as well as many ligaments and tendons, support the arches of the foot and assist in shock absorption. In general, fascia is a type of connective tissue that takes on many forms throughout the body. The plantar fascia, specifically, is a thick, fibrous band of tissue on the bottom of the foot that extends from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the bases of the toes. Just like any other part of the body, the plantar fascia can be irritated and inflamed when it gets overworked.
Considering there are so many different parts to the foot, it is not surprising that there are numerous possible foot movements.
The ankle can move in two directions: plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. Your ankle is in plantar flexion when you stand on your tiptoes to reach for something in a kitchen cabinet, and in dorsiflexion when you stand naturally or lean forward with your heels on the ground, like a fancy Michael Jackson move.
The mid-foot, where the metatarsals live, also allows just two major movements: inversion (sometimes called supination) and eversion (sometimes called pronation). If you pigeon-toe your feet, putting more weight onto the outer edge of the foot, your feet are in inversion. If you turn your toes out to the sides like Charlie Chaplin, with more weight on the inner edge of the foot, then your feet are in eversion.
Finally, the toes allow four movements. When you pick up a pencil with your toes, they must flex (bend), and when you stand on your tiptoes, they extend (straighten). They abduct (pull away from each other like making “jazz toes”) when you get a pedicure and don’t want your toes to touch and smudge the nail polish. And finally, they can adduct, or touch one another, when you try to squeeze them into a narrow shoe.
Most everyone is born with the inherent ability to articulate each toe individually; in much the same way we are born with the ability to articulate each finger. Unfortunately, we rarely exercise our toes as much as our fingers. Consequently, the strength of the toes is limited and, over time, individual toe articulation may become impossible to perform. Dexterity in the toes is actually important because these movements increase circulation to the feet. Plus, the added mobility helps with balance. The toes act similarly to suction cups, and having the strength and coordination to articulate each toe individually allows you to better take advantage of the toes as stabilizers to balance the entire body.
The human skeleton has evolved in a very specific shape to bear weight efficiently when all the bones are stacked properly, one on top of the other. When one bone or group of bones shifts, it leads to compensatory shifts in the neighboring bones. Just like dominos, one tiny shift in one part of the body can lead to shifts in other parts of the body, and ultimately result in major issues all over the body. When you’re standing, your feet bear the majority of your body weight. Not only is that a ton of stress and compression on the feet, but any minor misalignment in the feet can trickle up the leg, leading to injuries in any other part of the body.
Many people stand with more weight on one foot than the other, and/or more weight on one part of the foot than the other. This unequal weight distribution has the potential to cause pain and/or injury in any part of the body. You can help by learning the technique called Ground the Feet. Even if you do this a couple times each day, this technique will allow you to set up a strong foundation for the rest of the body and prevent or alleviate potential injuries.
Ground the Feet to allow for optimal alignment of bones throughout the body and thus prevent injury. To Ground the Feet, first create equal pressure on the left and right feet. Then, imagine points at the base of your big toe, pinky toe, outer heel, and inner heel. Push all four points of the sole into the ground and pull the toe stems long. In everyday life, you can practice grounding the feet when you stand in line at the grocery store, brush your teeth, or sit at your desk at work.
Note: Other useful foot-focused techniques to add to your daily wellness routine include stretching and strengthening exercises and self-foot massage. Stretching and strengthening exercises help regain and maintain dexterity in the toes, which in turn enhances foot circulation and strengthens balance. Without stretching and strengthening the toes as we age, our circulation and balance diminishes. Diminished circulation and balance can lead to any number of issues, including an inability to stand from a seated position and the increased likelihood of falling from a standing position. The injuries sustained from falling are generally associated with bone fractures and breaks, and involve an arduous recovery process.
Gentle massages of the soles of the feet and the toes help relieve pressure on the bottom of the foot. Remember, when we’re standing, the feet take on our entire body weight. The plantar fascia, the thick, fibrous band of tissue on the bottom of the foot, acts as a shock absorber for all that weight. Over time, if this band of tissue is not massaged and stretched, it can become hardened and potentially lead to plantar fasciitis. To avoid the onset of pain on the bottom of the foot and up the heel (symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis), massaging the foot (especially the bottom of the foot and toes) is helpful.
Try our foot workout to stretch, strengthen, and optimize the feet and practice grounding them for ideal alignment.
Since the feet bear so much weight throughout the day, they are a breeding ground for injuries. Some common maladies directly affecting the feet include sprains, fractures, arthritis, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, bunions, athlete’s foot, heel spurs, overpronation, and shin splints.