Today I’m going to be talking about one of the things that we tend to ignore but that is crucial to our overall health and mobility: feet. In my practice, when a patient has chronic back pain that we can’t seem to work out or we can’t seem to get the glutes or the hip flexor muscle to release, I check on the feet. I try to wiggle their toes, and their toes don’t move, plus there’s crunchy adhesions on the bottom of their feet. If our feet aren’t moving, we get stiffness which reverberates all the way up to the back, even up into the neck!
Interestingly enough, in Chinese medicine one of the reflexology points to benefit your back ends up being on your feet. There’s another point that is at the base of your skull that works on your whole back and even on your feet. That tells us that this is all connected, whether we like it or not. So if you are struggling with chronic pain it’s time to look at your feet in your quest to be pain free.
Pay attention to your feet!
Our feet absorb tons of impact throughout the day and are the foundation for our knees, hips, and spinal health. Many of us don’t pay attention to our feet outside of getting a pedicure now and again. But I’m here to tell you that your feet are an important and vital part to your physical health. The feet are your missing link to being pain free.
– A 1-mile run can put several tons of pressure on the feet
– We have 26 bones in the foot. That’s a quarter of the total bones in the entire body!
– There are 33 joints in the foot. This is crucial because joints equal mobility. If our feet don’t move, we don’t move!
About half the pain conditions I see tend to take a side in the body. You might have noticed that you have a “bad side” or keep getting injured on a certain side. About three years ago I fell while skiing and strained some ligaments in my right knee. A year later, I sprained my right ankle. This kind of succession tends to happen once we’ve had one injury on a particular side.
One of the things I want you to think about is whether you’ve ever had a foot injury. Did you ever get a big blister? That may seem far fetched, but these types of small injuries can actually cause big issues for you down the road. Something as simple as a blister can cause you to walk differently, and that reverberates up the whole body. If you have chronic back, leg, or knee pain, evaluate your feet. Are these issues occurring on the same side? When you have a blister or any type of damage such as an ingrown toenail, it’s going to throw your whole body off balance. Our feet are the foundation for balance and mobility both of which are key for being pain free.
I’ve talked a lot about using a lacrosse ball at the origin or attachment point of your muscles. There is some research that shows the benefits of working on your feet to increase lumbar, back, and hamstring flexibility. Sometimes I’ll have patients try pressure at the muscle origin, but sometimes that’s not enough. That’s when you have to go to the feet! In fact, save yourself time and go to the feet first.
Treatments Just For the Feet!
You might have heard of reflexology or Chinese foot massage. This is a really great tool, because you can access your tendons and ligaments in the feet to help release your whole body. You can also help with organ movement. What that means is getting blood flowing and moving through the organs. Acupressure and foot reflexology are all about getting blood flow moving. You can use a reflexology map to pinpoint certain areas and see what is sore. If you find an area on your foot is sore and you do some pressure work there, you might see the organ that is linked to that particular area start to feel better.
How do you go about acupressure or reflexology?
If you’re using a lacrosse ball, you don’t need to get fancy. You want to start from the heel forward. Roll from the heel of the foot forward, across the ball of your foot and then back down toward your heel. You can also use your hands to work along the metatarsal bones. You can rock the muscles between those bones back and forth a little bit by gripping either side of your foot with your hands. I recommend doing this foot massage for 5-10 minutes every day. I also recommend working from the foot up to the ankle and calf. There is usually a huge connection with foot issues and tight tendons in the calf.
The Shoes You Wear Matter
If you don’t have good shoes, you’re wasting your time massaging. You can assess yourself to determine if your shoes are a problem. Do this by lying flat on the floor and lifting your chin to look down at your feet. If your feet are turned inward or outward, that can show you the tightness that is happening in your calves, legs, glutes, or lower back. Often these tight places are originating in the feet. Pick a shoe that you’ve worn a lot and take a look at the wear pattern on the sole. This can tell you a lot about the way your feet are landing and where tightness can be occurring which could be causing you pain.
The other assessment you can do is record yourself walking and evaluate how you walk. Wear a pair of shorts and go barefoot, because you want to see what your knees are doing as well as your ankles and feet. There is a great video here that will help you assess your gait. You can have this done at a chiropractor, physical therapist, or specialty running store.
Use the above resources to help choose a great pair of shoes. I highly recommend heading into Nordstrom and getting help from the people in the shoe department. They can help assess your feet and determine what kind of shoe is going to be best for you. Sometimes the big supportive shoes aren’t the best; if you have high arches or flat arches you might need a particular style of shoe that will be most comfortable to you. Shoes are not one-size-fits all!
For running shoes, go to a specialty running store. Some of these newer stores have treadmills and can assess where your pressure points are. There are also many websites that can get you started, but I recommend going into a store and trying things on.
Treat your feet like royalty!
Your foot should be able to wiggle around and breathe in a shoe. For your ladies who insist on wearing high heels, you need to roll your feet and calves after wearing them! This applies to flip flops as well. If you spend any considerable portion of time in these kinds of shoes, rolling can help with injury prevention.
Being Pain Free For Life!
If you are interested in being pain free keep your feet mobile, and work on rolling out the bottom of those feet! I have a ton of resources in this article, and on my website you will find links to the gait analysis video, information about shoes for high arches, and how to perform reflexology on yourself.
Check it all out here. The more your feet move, the more you will be able to move and enjoy life as you get older. Let me know in the comments if you try any of these methods and how they help you.