We don’t pay as much attention to our feet as we could. It seems that the only time we take notice of them is when they start hurting, aching or worse when we develop a blister after wearing unsuitable footwear.
But when you think about them, they’re pretty amazing. They’re relatively small in proportion to the rest of our bodies, yet they manage to hold us up. They really are our connection to the world.
The right connections
The way your feet make contact with the ground directly effects how the force travels up your body. And the way we hold ourselves also influences how the feet make contact.
Hmmmm, there might be more to standing and walking than meets the eye!
But let’s take a look at how our feet are designed to work. When we maintain a good alignment in our body our feet will support our entire body, provide us with ultimate balance and gift us with complete freedom of movement.
What’s in a foot?
Inside just one of our feet is 26 bones, 30 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons, blood vessels, nerves and ligaments.
Most of the smaller bones, joints and soft tissues are found at the front of the foot, these help us with movement and mobility. While at the back you’ll find the heel bone which is just one big dense bone designed for weight bearing and stability.
Take care of the toe bones!
You may be guilty of doing this yourself, or you may have noticed others do this – I’m talking about using our forefoot to hold ourselves up instead of bearing our weight in our heels.
Putting weight continuously on the smaller bones and tissues of the feet forces the feet to work in a way that they’re not intended to. Another way of looking at it, is that they’re preventing their feet from performing the role they’re designed for.
This constant pressure on the forefoot may result in stress fractures, bunions, plantar fasciitis, and other foot related issues. You’ll know if you develop any of these as they are super annoying and quite often very painful!
What causes someone to walk and stand on their forefoot?
It’s usually associated with a forward shift of the pelvis. This habit not only transfers the body weight forward into the forefoot, but it can also reduce mobility in the lower back and negatively affect the glutes’ (the muscles that make up our buttocks) capacity to be engaged.
And as the glutes’ muscles are our body’s most powerful this is pretty serious! We can’t afford for them to be in poor health as we need strong glutes for movement, to help support the spine and pelvis, and to ensure our pelvic floor functions correctly.
Find out where your weight is
It pays to establish where you distribute your weight. Fingers crossed it will be at your heel, but you never know! And finding out now before it becomes an issue could really pay off.
STEP 1: Ideally get a belt or something similar like a phone charger that’s long with a bit of a weight on the end.
STEP 2: Stand side on to a long mirror.
STEP 3: Let the heavier end of the measuring object drop towards the floor and place the end you are holding onto your hip.
STEP 4: Notice where the weight ends rests.
If the weight rests ahead of your ankle bone, your weight is forward of the heel and into the forefoot.
Should the weight be ahead of your ankle bone, try to shift your weight back into your heels. To do this:
- Shift your pelvis back until the belt is over your ankle.
- Then bring your upper body back over your heels.
Take time to notice how this posture feels different. Many of my clients say that they feel as if they’re about to fall backwards. This is because their brain has adapted to a different positioning setting over the years.
With awareness, and continuous adjustment, your body will change in the same way it adapted to getting there in the first place. I encourage you to keep doing the exercise with the belt, or a phone charger, to keep you on track. The more you do the exercise the more you’ll be aware of your posture even when you’re out and about doing your usual daily activities.
Your feet – and your entire body – will thank you for it!
You know when you’re about to do something really brave and someone says to you, ‘well, you’ve got the backbone for it’, you know that what they’re saying in a roundabout way is that you’ve got the strength to do it.
And there’s good reason why the word backbone is used in this sense. It’s because that column of small, linked bones that runs down the middle of our backs is crucial for our sturdiness, power, and agility.
The pivotal link to everything!
Did you know that your spine is made up of 24 moveable bones? These are connected to a total of 120 muscles, 220 ligaments, and more than 13 million neurons. Pretty impressive, eh? So, when we take care of our spine, all these other bits of circuitry stay in peak health too allowing us to twist and turn with ease.
Aren’t columns usually straight?
You’ve probably heard the term, ‘spinal column’. But our spines are anything but straight. Spines have 3 curves – actually 4 if you include the sacrum. It makes no sense for it be to like a column. Imagine trying to tie up your shoelace if that was the case – impossible!
Next time you walk past a full-length mirror, or brave enough to look into a scrupulously clean shop window to see your reflection, turn to the side to reveal your curves.
- Starting at the top you’ll see the first curve which is your neck. It curves inwards and is known as the cervical curve.
- Moving down you’ll see a curve at your upper back. This curves outwards and is known as the thoracic curve.
- Next there’s the curve at your lower back which curves inwards. This is known as the lumbar curve.
- And finally, there’s the sacrum. This is made up of fused bones that form a connection with the pelvis and attaches with the tailbone (coccyx).
Different designs for different functions
Where the function of the spine changes, the design does too, and these are the spots where the spine can get stuck resulting in us experiencing irritation or pain.
This discomfort may be fleeting meaning that we don’t really notice it, but there may be times when the discomfort can quite literally stop us in our tracks!
Now, thinking back to the curves mentioned above and the changes in design, let’s take a closer look at the functions:
- The role of the cervical spine (the neck) is to support the head and allow movement. The bones are small and offer a lot of mobility.
- The bones of the thoracic spine (the upper back) are larger at the top and smaller at the bottom. Their role is to support the rib cage.
- The largest bones of the spine are found in the lumbar spine (the lower back). They carry the load of the upper body and provide the link with the lower body.
The front and the back of the spine is also designed differently.
- The front comprises of denser, thicker bodies of bone, designed for load bearing and stability.
- The back of the spine has much more space and provides attachment points for many of the back muscles and connecting bones. It handles the forces of tension that are created when we move.
By now you’re in no doubt that the spine is made from lots of different parts. So, it makes sense for us to do what we can to keep it as healthy as possible. Think of exercising your spine the same as spraying WD40 on the moving parts of a machine.
What to do when you’re feeling stiff
Most of us can relate to feeling stiff every now and then. We automatically do a little squirm and shimmy to try and loosen things up. But when that doesn’t work, we end up working other parts of the body even harder as a work around. This solution is never sustainable, and even more aches and pains will start to appear.
Here’s what you can do every day to free your spine:
- Ideally do this standing, but if you do this sitting down make sure that your feet are flat on the floor and that you’re lifting yourself tall through your spine.
- Place your hands on your chest and keep your head and hips still. Rotate your rib cage side to side.
- Arms down by your side, slide one arm down the side of your leg. Pause for a split second when you get to the top and repeat on the other side.
- Rock, tuck and tilt your pelvis back and forward keeping your shoulders in the same place.
Our information superhighway
And finally, let’s not forget about our internal superhighway – aka the spinal cord. Made up of soft tissue it extends from the base of our brains and contains nerve cells. Its job is to support our every movement and the structure of our bodies. Without it we simply can’t function.
Every vertebral bone of our spine has its own specific role as you’ve discovered, all with the purpose of helping us perform daily activities as efficiently and effectively as possible. And when you think that it’s our vertebrae that surrounds the spinal cord to protect it and keep it safe, it really is worth investing in the time to keep it in peak condition.
If you feel that you could benefit from discovering more ways to strengthen your core, feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com.