We all think of the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding as cruel and barbaric. Yet we think nothing of squeezing our feet into pointy-toed, high-heeled, painful shoes – ladies, I’m talking to you here (and holding up my hand as a bit of a hypocrite) – on a regular basis, purely for the aesthetic value. Gentlemen, you are almost as badly treated, with rigid-soled, narrow shoes that prevent healthy movement. We may as well be binding our feet Chinese-style when we see what the results can be a few decades down the line.
Our feet have more bones and joints in them than we have in the rest of our bodies. They are designed to be both strong and pliant: mobile responders to the ground below them and to the movement coming down from the body above, significant players in every step that is taken. And significant players in the health of the body standing on them: knee, hip and back complaints are often a response to poor biomechanics at the foot.
Most of us – thanks to our culture’s practice of binding our feet from the moment we start walking – have planks on the ends of our legs. Often quite mangled planks. Our feet are rigid blocks that move as one piece from the ankle, and even then not very much from the ankle. Our toes are scrunched together when they should sit comfortably apart, and they should be able to move independently of the rest of the foot and of each other. The mid-foot is locked down when it should be able to move in and out of pronation and supination. Most of us, luckily, can still bend at the ankle, but, thanks to wearing shoes with a heel (even a low heel, like a man’s work shoe), we are often restricted even in this bending movement.
How to address this? The first step is to give your feet some room to breathe. I’m not advocating throwing out your entire wardrobe of shoes, but try to spend more time barefoot. Wear flat shoes with a softer, flexible sole and a wide toe-box (which is just what it sounds like, the area around your toes) whenever you can. Vivobarefoot shoes are a good example. Avoid flip-flops or any other shoe that doesn’t attach itself around your foot properly (around the back of your heel), otherwise you have to clench your foot to keep the shoe on, encouraging hammer toes and shortening of the intrinsic muscles of your feet.
Yes, I know that a pointy toe is pretty and those wide toe-box shoes are really not, but you don’t have to wear them when you go out on a date. And think about what happens when you take your shoes off – often not a pretty sight. Have you ever had a look at your granny’s feet? Or your grandfather’s? I bet they were ugly as sin and hurt like hell….
Step two on the path to healthier feet: getting your feet to move. Have a look at Foot Mobility for some ideas.