Bunions, plantar fasciitis, Morton's neuroma, flat feet. The list goes on.
Most people don’t really think about their feet until they have a problem with their feet. Even then, we might try a slide-in insole or maybe even an orthotic, and the problem barely goes away so we just get used to living with our new reality or we change our realities to match the level of pain we experience.
Foot pain was never an issue for me until I started to work full-time as a nurse in a busy trauma unit. I was on my feet for over 12 hours a day in my highly cushioned Skechers, which were the shoes that were suggested to me when I started my job. They were apparently a nurse favourite. By the end of my shifts, I would be limping home from the sharp pain I experienced along the underside of my feet.
My co-workers suggested trying orthotics. After all, we did have insurance coverage for it.
“Do they work for you?”
“At first, but not really anymore. You’ll just need to make sure you transfer your insoles because it’s hard to walk without them.”
Nope. Not good enough for me. None of this made sense! At home, I’m typically on my feet all day, I trained clients barefoot, and I did Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu barefoot. I clocked around the same number of steps at the hospital as I did at home. So WHY? Why did my feet hurt so badly?
After chatting with some of my wellness mentors, I decided to attend a seminar that was being presented by a local Ottawa company: The Foot Collective. I attended the seminar hoping to find a solution to my own foot pain, but little did I know that this was going to change the way I viewed movement and fitness, but I’ll save that for another day.
Long story short. I’ve made a few changes and BAM! No more foot pain!!!!!
Feet. They are your foundation. They are the parts of your body that interact with the ground more than any other body part. They are what balances you, grounds you, and propels you. Despite all they can do, some of us barely even know what our own feet look like and we even avoid touching our own feet. We don’t recognize their importance until we have pain, but we don’t have to wait for that to start caring.
Here are my top five things I did to fix my feet:
1. Spend time barefoot
You don’t have to throw your shoes in the trash, but you can start by spending more and more time barefoot in your home. If you are used to wearing supportive shoes or wearing orthotics regularly, start with just 10 minutes a day and then put your shoes back on. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend freeing your paws as tolerated.
Be kind to your body. If you haven’t gone to the gym in 10 years, you probably wouldn’t/shouldn’t load up a barbell with 3 plates and try to bench press that on your first try. Our feet are composed of bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons just like any other part of our body, so we can train them the same way. Train your feet, rest, restore, and repeat, gradually increasing the load.
2. Ditch the heels
I don’t mean just the 5-inch stilettos. This also includes anything with an elevated heel. That’s right, check out your running shoes or your dress shoes. Even the slightest elevation of the heel is enough to throw your mechanics off upstream.
Check out this informative post by Simply Chiropractic Tampa
I’ll include a list of my favorite minimalist footwear brands at the end of this article.
If you’re used to walking around with your heels elevated, I wouldn’t suggest transitioning to a minimalist shoe right away. You might feel some discomfort or in various parts of your body as you adjust to your new positioning. That’s normal, but you want to be mindful of how you’re feeling. Gradually transition and listen to your body. Rest by wearing the shoes you’re used to wearing, and train by spending time walking in your new minimalist shoes.
If you’re a runner, I wouldn’t jump right into running the same distances and at the same intensity you’re used to. Walk before you run. I’ll have another blog post up about barefoot running in the near future.
3. Wear shoes that allow your feet to move freely
A human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and an endless amount of possible positions it can be in. Early humans had the pleasure of being barefoot, walking on uneven ground, and climbing trees. This would basically massage the feet, helping work out any tension that developed over the day. Today, we walk in cushioned and rigid shoes on flat surfaces, so we don’t get a lot of articulation of the feet.
This doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause though.
Wearing shoes that allow your foot to move freely is a great place to start. When I look for shoes, I make sure that the shoes can fit my feet allowing me to wiggle my toes and bend my foot in as many directions as possible. I’ll even try to fold, bend, and twist the shoe to test its flexibility.
I also look for shoes that have a wide toe-box. If you’ve ever looked at a newborn’s foot, you’ll notice that the widest part of their foot is where the toes splay. Their toes don’t even touch each other. This is what a human foot is supposed to look like, but over years of training our feet to fit into shoes that are narrow at the toes, our splay between our toes begin to close and our feet start to resemble the shoes we wear.
Check out this great photo by Vivobarefoot:
4. Mobilize your feet daily
Like I mentioned in the previous point, we don’t get much articulation of our feet on a daily basis, but we can create it! Just as we would stretch and mobilize our hips or our neck after a long day of sitting at a desk, we should do the same for our feet.
There are two things that I do daily to help keep my feet healthy: Roll my feet out with a lacrosse ball and perform “Toe-ga” (yoga for the toes).
The “Foot Roll Out”. I do this one twice a day for about 1-2 minutes per foot. Use a hard ball, like a lacrosse ball.
Start by sliding your foot gently back and forth from your heel to your toes, gradually applying more and more pressure. Next, anchor your heel to the ground and position the ball at the midfoot, where the arch is, and swing your foot from side-to-side working across the muscle fibers. Lastly, position the ball at the toes and roll your toes across the ball allowing your toes to move in a wave-like motion as the ball passes underneath them. Repeat on the other side.
Next is Toe-ga. This is another great tool I learned at The Foot Collective’s seminar. I highly suggest checking them out if you want to change the way you view movement, starting at the feet. Toe-ga is something I do whenever I get a chance. I do it if I’m on the couch watching a movie, while I’m taking a relaxing bath, or before my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training sessions. Once a day is a good place to start. Don’t worry if you can’t get your fingers all the way yet! It’ll improve over time.
5. Wear Toe Spacers
Take a look at your feet. Chances are that some or most of your toes are touching. This is likely a result of the footwear choices we have made over the years. Before I started even thinking about my feet, all of my toes were touching because I wore relatively narrow shoes. Think about it this way: Would you rather stand on a narrow post in the middle of a shark-infested ocean or a large platform? If we think of our feet as our foundation, it makes sense to have wide feet that can support us.
Wearing toe spacers will be uncomfortable at first. Start with 10 minutes and work your way up, gradually adding 5-10 minutes each day. Now I’m able to wear them all day. I walk around my house, exercise, and train clients while wearing them.
Foot pain is something that typically arises gradually, so don’t expect it to go away overnight. Take your time with the process, be kind to your body, and appreciate it’s amazing ability to adapt to change. Foot health is something I’m continuing to learn about and improve in my own body, so I’ll continue to share my journey with you.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and I hope you find some of these tips helpful!