This past Sunday, I spent the afternoon at a workshop given by Irene Dowd about our ever versatile feet. One model of the foot looks at the structure as a twisted plane. What this means it that the bones of the foot can rotate to accommodate uneven ground. The ability of the bones to shift also acts as a shock absorber when walking and taking weight onto the foot. As we learned the different movements that can take place we analyzed our peers’ feet as they walked, taking notice to the patterns.
We then learned a slew of exercises and stretches for the muscles of the foot and ankle. We tried to notice differences in our abilities to balance on one foot, before and after the exercises, and the different patterns of the foot when walking after the exercises were completed.
I was unsure of how much I was going to be able to take away from such a focused discussion. The foot is complex and intriguing, and as a dancer, I have a bizarre appreciation for my feet. But how is this knowledge applicable to “everyday” life? Most people aren’t walking around thinking about how much their feet twist and untwist with each step. If you are a nerd like me, you might begin to overanalyze everything, finding unevenness between the right and left side, and swivels of the ball of the foot, and tension in the big toes and etc. I walked and analyzed so many times that I felt I couldn’t walk normally anymore, it all felt strange and forced.
But the truth is, if it’s not broken…
Sometimes fixing a small problem with your feet could fix the problem with your knee, or hip. Alignment issues tend to have a cascading effect. Not to say that there is always a definite right and wrong. Everyone’s body is built differently. At the workshop, my walking partner, Jay had a tendency to turn out his right leg as he walked. Irene looked at his hip and thought it was possible, since parallel was uncomfortable, that the head of his femur might be placed in such a way in his hip socket that turning the leg in could be pinching a nerve or tendon. In that case, it’s perfectly fine to walk with one leg turned out so long as the knee is tracking over the foot and not in the directional line that you are walking.
The funniest part of the day was trying to complete these foot exercises. We exercise the large muscle groups all the time, but when was the last time you tried to isolate the abductor hallucis? Yeah, it’s difficult. The first time I tried there was absolutely no movement, but standing up my foot felt more stable and closing my eyes, my balance had definitely gotten better. There was less wobble! Irene noted that even if the first time you try to work the intrinsic muscles of the foot and are unable to do them correctly, just trying will awaken the foot and within a week or two you will be able to access the muscles with much less difficulty.
Here are a few for you to try at home, and don’t feel bad if it seems like its impossible! Good luck!
With feet on the ground move your big toe away from the other toes toward your other foot.
With feet on the ground move your little toe away from the other toes.
With feet on the ground, keep toes flat and in place as you “inch worm” you heel forward doming your foot.
Pick up one foot, apply pressure to the base of your big toe, keeping the toes long, flex the big toe into your finger (metatarsal phalangeal joint) Repeat with each toe.
Dome the foot by drawing the points of the cuboid, ball of big toe and ball of little toe towards each other, keeping toes long.
With feet on the ground, press the entire plantar surface of the toes into the floor and flex the metatarsal phalangeal joints so that the metatarsals rise up. Then, press the metatarsals down and extend the toes off the floor.
With feet on the ground, keep toes in place and walk the heel in toward the big toe and back to center then over toward the little toe.