Fearless Fitness Tip Of the Week: How Fit Are Your FEET?
The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 ligaments and more than a dozen muscles. Do you give them the same attention as you give your OTHER fit parts?
Most exercisers are working up a sweat for one reason: to keep the body healthy and fit from head to toe. But if you’re fitness focus is constantly above the ankles, your entire body is missing out. The body is a linkage system (remember the KINETIC CHAIN?) and the FEET are the foundation of that system. If the muscles of the feet aren’t working properly to hold the feet and ankles in correct alignment, it’s a good chance that nothing above the feet is properly aligned either. This results in poor body mechanics and puts extra stress on the joints during movement. The feet can support three times your body weight when walking, seven times your body weight when running, and up to ten times your body weight when jumping. That’s a lot of impact on the feet! Over time, a foot misalignment or poor muscle use can result in foot, ankle, knee, hip, sacro-illiac joint, lower-mid-upper back, shoulder, and neck pain. Seventy-five percent of Americans experience foot health problems. Don’t become one of them. Make foot care a regular part of your routine and stride strong every time you hit the ground.
Before you develop a personal foot health care program, it’s important to get to know your feet first. Feet are a good indicator of overall health. How well do you know yours? Pay attention and notice the following:
- How do you wear out your shoes?
- Where do you typically carry the weight on your feet?
- Where do you have calluses if any?
- What direction do your toes face?
- Are the bones of your feet are stacked correctly?
- Do your shoes fit?
- How old are your shoes?
- Do you replace them at least every 6 months?
- What does your footprint look like?
- How often to your feet ache?
- How often do you have foot cramps?
- Do you have any recurring knee, hip, or back pain?
- Can you move all the joints of your toes like you move your fingers—freely and easily?
- When you exercise, do you ever do anything specifically for your toes and feet?
Everyone’s feet are unique and building an awareness of how your feet function will help you create personal foot care program. Your feet work hard everyday and sometimes they pay the consequences. The following is a list of common foot problems:
- Plantar fasciitis (heel pain). Plantar Fasciitis is a painful condition caused by overuse of the plantar fascia or arch tendon of the foot. Plantar fasciitis commonly causes a sharp heel pain that usually occurs with the very first steps in the morning. Once the foot limbers up, the pain of plantar fasciitis normally decreases, but it may return after long periods of standing or after getting up from a seated position. Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners, dancers, and sports that involve jumping. It is also found in people who are overweight, women who are pregnant and those who wear shoes with inadequate support. Treatment involves stretching, strengthening, and resting the feet, calves, and Achilles tendon.
- Stress Fractures. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. Stress fractures are caused by the repetitive application of force, or overuse, such as repeatedly jumping or running long distances. Stress fractures are most common in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. Track and field, basketball, dance, aerobics, and football athletes are particularly susceptible to stress fractures, but anyone can experience a stress fracture. If you’re starting a new exercise or running program you are at high risk if you do too much too soon. Treatment for stress fractures typically requires rest and time off from activity.
- Calluses. Calluses are thick, hardened layers of skin that develop when your skin tries to protect itself against friction and pressure. Change footwear to avoid pressure or regularly file calluses down if they start to hurt.
- Foot Cramps/Tingling/Numbness. Foot cramps can be caused by a weakness and lack of flexibility or mobility in the foot. Improper or poorly fit footwear can also cause foot cramps, tingling, or numbness.
- Athlete’s Foot. The athlete’s foot fungus thrives in moist, dark places (like your shoes). Take wet socks off immediately after workouts and wear shower shoes in public showers. Always dry your feet thoroughly and see your doctor if you regularly experience itching or burning sensations in your feet.
- Blisters. Blisters can become painful and affect your ability in all the sports you love. Make sure to wear moisture wicking socks (instead of cotton) and well fitting shoes to prevent blisters. If you do get blisters, cover them with gauze pads instead of bandages.
Fearless Fitness Challenge Of The Week: Give your Feet a WORKOUT!
A well-balanced workout program and proper hygiene can help you avoid the above conditions from derailing you from your fitness routine. But it also helps to make foot and ankle specific stretching and strengthening a regular part of your weekly regimen. I challenge you to take care of you’re toes with the following exercises. Aim for three times a week, before or after your workout.
- Toe grip (to strengthen the foot muscles to improve balance): Drop a towel on the floor and use your toes to grip and move it towards you on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat five times with each foot.
- Toe extension (to strengthen and support the muscles, which in turn will protect the bones of the feet): Wrap an elastic band around all five toes. Expand your toes and hold for five seconds; release. Repeat five times on each foot.
- Toe Stretch: Put foam toe separators (easy to find at the drugstore in the nail polish isle) between your toes and squeeze for five seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Calf raise (to strengthen the feet and the calves and improve balance): Stand near a counter or a doorway and hold on lightly for balance. Balance on one foot and rise up onto your toes. Hold for 10 seconds, then lower. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
- Calf stretch (to keep the Achilles tendons and the plantar fascia from getting tight): Sit with one leg stretched out in front of you and wrap a towel around the ball of the foot. Pull the towel back gently until you feel a stretch in the arch of the foot and the calf. Hold for 10 seconds; release. Repeat five times on each leg.
- Plantar Fascia Stretch: With your knees on the floor, tuck your toes and sit back on your heels. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds multiple times a day.
Here are a few other tips to help your feet feel strong and fabulous:
- As soon as you’re done with your workout, get out of your athletic shoes and into roomier shoes to accommodate the swelling that’s happened.
- Soak you’re feet in cool water or an ice bath to bring down the inflammation or swelling from your workout.
- Give your self a foot massage. Roll the plantar fascia muscle (arch of the foot) with a golf or tennis ball. Or sweet-talk your significant other to give your toes a quick rub.
- Replace your workout shoes often. Get new trainers at least every six months. Mark the date of purchase on the heel and track your training. Be sure to watch the wear of the shoe, if the outer sole is worn all the way through, it’s time for a new pair.
- Give you’re toes some fresh air. Take off your shoes to be barefoot whenever you can.
- Train your balance. To prevent ankle sprains and to improve proprioception, make balance and stability exercises part of your regular routine.
Want happy feet for life? Get to know your feet and follow these simple stretching and strengthening exercises. Take good care of your ankles, arches, and toes. It can be done in a few minutes a day and just might make the difference in keeping your feet pain and injury free. Exercise specific to foot care can go a long way towards improving all aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Start from the ground up – work your feet for a maximum body benefit!
Want help keeping your feet in good shape? My “Muscles On the Mat” Classes at EQUINOX are designed to help you take care of your ankles, arches, and toes. The class involves footwork, strengthening, and stretching exercises that focus on INJURY PREVENTION and LONGEVITY. Join us every Monday and Wednesday night from 6:50 – 7:30pm in the Main Studio at EQUINOX San Francisco.
My goal is to create a San Francisco fitness community of support and positive encouragement. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help YOU reach your personal health and wellness goals. Thanks again for everything and Ill see you in class soon!!