Well Adjusted: Take Steps for Healthier Feet
Melanie Brown | First Published March 1 in The Mountain Times
With all the options for footwear and orthotics, it is often hard to know what to buy to have healthier feet. When in chiropractic school and more conscious than ever of making good decisions for my joints and muscles, I splurged on a pair of trendy, but orthopedic, clogs. I had previously worked as a certified nursing assistant in a hospital, and I noticed that the nurses always wore them, so I assumed they would be the best. Unfortunately, I was wrong!
As humans, we tend to overengineer even the simplest things, including shoes. What is the purpose of footwear? It protects our feet from hot, cold, and sharp things. It should not change the way the foot was designed to work. I haven’t met anyone yet who was born with shoes! The goal should be to protect the feet, not change how they function.
Most feet thrive in flat, flexible shoes that are wide in the toe box with minimal or no arch support and no toe spring (described below). Unfortunately, this does not represent most shoes. Our footwear has squeezed, deconditioned, and deformed our poor feet, and pain and dysfunction follow. How can we move in a better direction?
Minimalist Foot Movement
Many of you have heard of the minimalist foot movement with a goal of giving you healthier feet. Let’s break it down:
Flat shoes: This is the most obvious one. We all know high heels are a poor choice because we can feel it! And for those who don’t wear heels, we can see the pain in others when they kick them off at the end of the day, rubbing their feet in pain. We should also avoid slight heels and reverse heels. Toe spring—where the front of the shoe is up from the ground—is also a widespread problem.
Flexible soles: When you bend your shoe, it should move easily. You will find rigid soles in clogs, dress shoes, and some boots and tennis shoes. Flexibility is paramount, as it allows the foot to move naturally as it hits the ground. We don’t want to be walking on two-by-fours or teeter-totters.
Wide toe box: Most shoes are too narrow in the front, which squishes our toes together and permanently changes them. If you look at babies’ feet or cultures that don’t wear shoes, you will see spaces between each toe. That is what we want! Suppose your toes have been squished over time. You will lose that spacing, contributing to pain, dysfunction, bunion formation, and lower arches.
No or minimal arch support: Wait, WHAT! When you wear arch support, your foot is supported, which can feel good in the short term. However, that negative space is supposed to be there when we walk. If you continuously wear arch support, you will weaken the foot muscles, including the tibialis anterior. This important muscle comes around like a stirrup and pulls up the arch. The muscle belly is in the lower leg. Too much arch support will turn this muscle into a wet noodle, and your arch will collapse.
Most minimalist shoes hit the points above, leading to healthier feet.
Tips for Shoe Shopping or Evaluating Your Shoe Collection
Remove the shoe’s insole and stand on it. If your foot spills over the edge, the shoe is too narrow.
If your shoes are just a little too narrow in the front, you can make two one-inch cuts in a tennis shoe above the first lace, pointing out at a 45-degree angle to widen the toe box. You can use a shoe stretcher or put a bag of water in the shoe, then put it in the freezer, where it will expand and stretch the shoe. If you look at your shoe from the side and the toe springs upward, fold your shoe in half the other way and stick it under your sofa for the day. It may reduce the toe spring.
Inspect the arch of the shoe. Sometimes, you can remove the insole. If it has arch support, leave it out or replace it with a flat insole for comfort or shock absorption.
Go barefoot or wear slippers, crocs, or flip-flops when you can. A prominent Portland podiatrist ran the Portland Marathon in crocs! Wear toe socks or shoes and use silicone toe spacers to spread the toes over time. My favorite is Correct Toes. Start slowly and increase wearing time for a gradual change and healthier feet.
Other Steps You Can Take
If you have hammertoes, where your toes play the piano, put a metatarsal pad directly under the toes on the part that sticks out and see if it flattens the toes. If so, you can wear them in your shoes. Size and placement are essential. Consult with your doctor if you have questions.
Look at your feet in the mirror and notice your arches. How many nickels can you stack under there? Are they the same from side to side? If one is flatter than the other, a chiropractic adjustment can help restore the fallen arch.
After an ankle sprain, the heel bone often gets pushed back and cannot realign on its own due to the bony anatomy. At PURE LIFE CLINIC and MOUNTAIN LIFE CLINIC, we have a specific adjustment to restore the arch, which is usually an immediate and lasting improvement unless you resprain the foot.
Finally, toe spreading and short-foot exercises can help strengthen the feet and restore the space between the toes.
Toe Spreading: Look down at your feet and spread the toes as far as possible. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat five times. Perform several times throughout the day.
Short Foot Arch Exercise: Put a hand towel on the floor and put your heel at the edge of the long end. Use your toes to scrunch the towel up under your foot. Repeat 5-10 times.
Humans are gravity-dependent creatures whose joints are affected from the ground up. Foot problems can be a big problem on their own but can also create knee, hip, back, and even neck problems. Keep these principles in mind and create better health for your whole skeletal system!