One of the most common discussions I have with my clients on a regular basis goes like this:
Me: "What kind of shoes do you wear?"
Patient: "Oh, I got these running shoes custom fit at the Secret Squirrel shoe store that uses patented technology to assess my foot strike pattern, weight distribution, favorite color, and most likely soul-mate. They have great arch supports but my feet still hurt."
Let's just stop right now and all perform a little thought exercise. Better yet, don't strain yourselves, look at this picture I found on Google Images of an arched bridge:
Maybe it’s just me. Do you see a custom orthotic supporting the arch under this bridge?
That’s because the arch is a physically stable structure on its own.
Anyone who tells you the answer to your problem is a custom orthotic is misinformed and short-sighted at best.
There is only one situation in which you need to wear an orthotic insert or buy a "motion-control" shoe: when it is painful to walk without them.
If the prospect of dropping $500 on a custom orthotic or $150 on a pair of shoes doesn’t fit into your monthly budget, this article is for you.
No matter the foot problem, our primary goal should be figuring out what is causing the problems in your feet. If we understand what the problem truly is, we can develop a plan focused on restoring the normal joint mobility of the foot and reinforcing that natural mobility of the foot with stronger muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
We have been sold a false bill of goods over the last 40 years when it comes to performance footwear. The belief that we need extra cushion under the heel, a rigid mid-sole to support the foot, and a contoured and tapered toe box is an invention of industry and advertising.
If you are a runner and you heel strike I want you to try this simple experiment.
Take off your shoes and socks and run 100 meters down the sidewalk in front of your house, heel striking every stride along the way. Then think about how many steps it took before your started to realize that landing on your heel really doesn’t feel that great on your feet, ankles, knees, hip, or low back.
The underlying problem with all of the foot problems we see (and we see a lot-the injury rate for recreational runners has been nearly 80% per year for years) is none of us were given a system to do basic maintenance work on our feet.
How are you supposed to get your feet stronger?
How do you improve your foot mobility?
How do you transition to flat shoes?
What are you supposed to do if you have a flat arch?
Let's dig in and answer (some of) those questions so you can reclaim the natural ability you possess to have strong, healthy feet.
RESTORING FOOT AND ANKLE MOBILITY
Your foot and ankle contain 33 individual joints designed to move as you walk and run. We divide the foot and ankle into 3 main sections:
The rear foot (ankle and heel bones)
The mid-foot (arch and associated bones in front of the ankle and behind the balls of the feet)
The forefoot (balls of the feet and toes)
Up next are a couple of mobility-based drills to open up your ankles and feet. Keep in mind our rules to self-mobilization:
If it feels sketchy, it's sketchy. Stop it.
If it burns, tingles, or is going numb, you're pressing on a nerve, not soft tissue. Stop it.
Test and Retest. We want you to mobilize until you create a change that is observable.
Classic Calf Wall Stretch
Heel Opener and Toe Re-Animator
RESTORING FOOT AND ANKLE STRENGTH
You can mobilize your feet and ankles all day long, but if you don't follow it up with some motor control (a.k.a. strength) re-training, your body and your brain aren't going to be able to use that new range of motion you discovered.
Here are a couple of our favorites:
Standing Heel Raise with ISO Hold
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SHOES AND HABITS
All the stretching and strengthening exercises in the world aren't going to move the needle on your foot and ankle mobility and strength if we don't consider the shoes you wear and what you do throughout the day.
In terms of footwear, look for "zero-drop" shoes, or shoes that have no more than a 4mm difference in heel-to-toe drop. If your heel is significantly elevated above your toes and never reaches level with your forefoot throughout the day, your body isn't going to bother keeping the natural range of motion of those joints and tissues in your lower leg and foot. Shoes with an elevated heel create an environment for your lower legs and feet that stimulates adaptive stiffening of those tissues and joints.
You are what you do most regularly. Your chances of developing plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, or even an Achilles Tendon rupture increase dramatically when your joints and tissues don't possess their inherent ranges of motion and pliability.
Walking barefoot can be one of the greatest inputs to your feet to restore their normal function. If you can't walk in the house in your bare feet without pain, spend 2-4 weeks working daily on our mobility and strength prescription above.
If pain isn't a problem, start by spending 1-2 weeks walking around the house in bare feet. When that gets easy, spend another 1-2 weeks walking down your driveway and back. After you adapt to that, start walking to the end of your block and back (this a great conversation starter with your neighbors, too). When that gets easy, go for a walk around the block.
If you can walk around the block in your bare feet and you'd call our mobility and strength protocol for the feet and ankles "easy and comfortable", I'd say you've successfully restored the normal strength and mobility of your feet and ankles.
If you're a runner and you want to transition to running in minimal shoes or barefoot, there's a little more work to do.
Start your run in your minimal shoes (when your feet are fresh) and run 10 percent of your distance in those shoes. Switch back to your regular running shoes for the rest of your run. As long as you don't experience pain or excessive soreness (lasting more than 48 hours), you can increase your distance in your minimal shoes by 10 percent per-week.
Your feet and ankles are the foundation of so much function through the lower body. We regularly see foot dysfunction with our patients as the root cause of many knee, hip, and even lumbar spine issues. If you're currently dealing with problematic low back, hip, or knee issues and you haven't addressed your ankle and foot mobility and mechanics, it's time to start working on those old dogs!
If this article has sparked a question in your mind as to what other things you can do to restore the function in your feet so you can move, run, or train pain-free, you can start a conversation with us by clicking on the "Inquire Now" button above, call us at (913)396-9726, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.