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Where Do You Stand?

Last weekend I attended my friend Robert’s birthday party. I had just sat down with my plate of food next to my friend Sara, who sat conversing with a man wearing rainbow colored striped socks with sandals. Between bites of food and conversation, I kept sneaking glances at the colorful feet. They were asking to be noticed. And notice I did….

….That is, until a man walked through the room with a step that made the chandeliers shake: clomp, clunk, clomp…hard heel strikes with cowboy boots on wood floors. He walked through the room once, twice, three times, passing back and forth. He appeared to be looking for someone, but at the same time, he seemed to be aware of –and enjoying–the attention he was drawing. Clunk, clunk, clomp…. I wondered what he wanted to say to us with his feet. Something about himself, his own importance, his need to be seen or heard?

I turned back to the rainbow toes, thinking, here were two very different sets of feet drawing attention to themselves, both very effectively. I wondered: Were my feet asking for attention? I looked down at the shoes I’d chosen to wear: open heeled wedgies whose black spandex tops covered my bunions but squeezed my toes together, producing a numbing sensation when I walked. They seemed to be saying, ‘Don’t notice me, please!’

My eyes roamed the room, checking out other feet. A woman filling her plate at the food table stood in wedged heels that made her ankles teeter when she reached for a slice of watermelon. An ankle bracelet, toenail polish. My friend Sara wore delicate strappy sandals to show off her pretty painted nails. My gym-rat husband was oh-so-casual in his Air Jordans.

I tried to forget what I “know” about feet from a structural standpoint–that the tibia articulates with the calcaneus/talus to form the ankle joint, and when these bones do not ‘glide’ properly or when there are rotations among them, it can set off a series of malfunctions all the way down the foot to the tips of the toes, and upwards, through the knees and hips and into the neck…that a balanced body requires a strong and adaptable base of support. I tried instead simply to observe the vast variety and personalities of the feet I was in company with without scrutinizing them for structural disorganization.

When I opened my gaze in a different way, I saw a whole society of feet! I saw conservative feet. Risk-taking feet. Shy feet. Flirtatious feet. Opinionated feet. Whimsical feet. Angry feet. Delicate feet. Macho feet. It made me want to ask my clients: how would you describe the personality of your feet? It might be a good way to find out their attitudes towards their feet and, just possibly, a window into how best to help them solicit support from them. By joining with their feet and inviting them to appreciate the brilliant, complex intricacy of them, perhaps balance would be easier to achieve.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, the average person takes between 8,000-10,000 steps a day. Over a lifetime, that’s 115,000 miles–4X the circumference of the globe! When we walk, there are moments during our stride when the pressure on our feet exceeds the weight of our bodies. When we run, that pressure can more than quadruple.

Each of our feet has 26 bones (25% of the total number of bones in our body), 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles. With these two small platforms supporting our entire skeleton, and with all those joints and muscles, it seems pretty clear that we were designed for movement. Standing still takes more energy than walking, as the muscular load on our feet and legs while standing is far greater. So the next time you feel exhausted after waiting in line at the bank for a table at a restaurant, you’ll ‘understand’ why!

On the other hand, if our bones and muscles are not properly organized and balanced, the extra poundage our feet endure during walking and running cannot be to good effect. It’s no wonder, then, that during our lifetime, 80% of us will experience foot pain severe enough to consult a podiatrist.

In spite of their great potential for movement, most of us our feet have become rigid and/or imbalanced over time. Our arches go slack or become too tight; we develop bunions; our ankles have been twisted, strained, sprained, jolted; we develop plantar fascitis, capsulitis, heel spurs, hammer toes, etc.

What is a healthy foot? The answer is probably too involved to present here, but let’s start with how a healthy foot functions. During a walking stride, our weight is transferred from heel/lateral arch, then diagonally across to big toe/medial arch, where, with the help of our transverse arch, we push off into the next step.

But many of us have a compromised ability to transfer weight properly through the foot. Some of us walk almost exclusively on the inside or outside of our feet, some of us never use our toes to push off when we walk. Our calf muscles work overtime to correct imbalances that exist in the structure of the feet themselves.

Why is the modern foot so problematic? Well, we seem to forget that we were not born wearing shoes or walking on flat, hard surfaces. We evolved with the ability to run away from predators….to run over variable, uneven, rocky terrain. Our feet had to be supple and adaptable.

Thanks to shoes and concrete, most of us have lost the adaptability in our feet. Certain styles of shoes are particularly hard on feet, namely pointed-toed high heels. (For most women I know, these are a sartorially-required form of torture!) Some foot and sports specialists now recognize shoes’ limiting and detrimental effects and advocate for training in bare feet. This is because the more mobile and adaptable the feet, the stronger, more balanced, and less prone to injury they are.

Which brings me to the second hour in the 10-series of Structural Integration. Hour #2 is devoted to restoring mobility and balance to the intricate configuration of bones and muscles of the feet and lower legs. Muscles in the lower leg contribute to arch support or lack thereof; tight calf muscles can be responsible for such ailments as plantar fascitis and loss of ankle mobility. After the 2nd hour, many of my clients experience a new sensation of lightness and contact with the ground. Some with low back or neck pain have felt much improved from the 2nd hour work, as their feet are now able to provide appropriate support for their structure.

So be in awe of your feet, however they look. They are the MVP of your structure.

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