I have weak feet. I went to a new Physical Therapist to resolve my strange gait pattern. I’ve had a “rogue” left leg for several years now and I am committed to resolving it this year.
I expected tons of hip exercises and core strengthening – which I already do daily with marginal gains – so admittedly I was skeptical. This PT is different. The first set of exercises given to me were designed to strengthen my feet and ankles and increase proprioception.
I started running in my teens and was constantly injured. At that time, the “prescription” was to wear stable shoes plus orthotics in the attempt of arch support. I got them. Over and over again from multiple podiatrists and pedorthists. Some were molded foam, some made of leather and others crafted out of hard plastic. Through the years, I must have had between 10 – 20 pairs – each with limited gains.
My flexible flat feet were supported, but they never addressed the root cause. The thousands of dollars spent on these devices, didn’t resolve anything. I still got injured and my feet suffered as a consequence.
My feet got weak.
No one told me that my feet, core and hips were weak and in order to run injury-free, strengthening was in order. I could have by-passed much injury, trauma, anger and frustration by simply addressing the root cause.
Hip and core weakness contribute to a number of problems, including flat feet and excessive pronation. Hip position affects both leg alignment and the way force travels through the leg to propel you forward. Hip weakness and poor motor control leads to higher stresses on knees, ankles and feet.
Weak hips, or low motor control, is problematic with activities that require the body to “balance” on one leg, like running. Hip muscles need enough strength to support the entire weight of the body in order to maintain alignment and dynamic propulsion. This is not only important in moving, but in standing and any activity of daily living.
Now that you have a better understanding of why strong hips and feet are important, here are a few things you can do to build and maintain strength in those critical structures.
Keep in mind, this is a broad view with some ideas of what can be done, if you are in pain, find a reputable Physical Therapist with whom you feel comfortable,
- Go barefoot – daily. maybe it’s 10 minutes to start, but contact with the ground will help strengthen feet, ankles, knees and hips. Research backs this up (https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/6/1/e000577.full)
- Buy shoes with wider toe boxes. When the toes can’t spread, you start to compromise foot strength. The broader your beam the stronger your stride
- Adopt minimal shoes – for everything. Wearing these will naturally strengthen your feet and this type of shoe allows for a more natural foot strike. If you’re not used to them, start with a few hours a day and build. Here’s some evidence on why it’s important: (https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/3137687/)
- Alternately curl and spread your toes – do this until the foot fatigues, rest then do it again.
- Strengthen your calves and shins – toe raises and heel raises are a good start, then progress to using weights
- Balance on one foot for as long as you can, then do it with eyes closed or on a squishy surface
- Focus on using the big-toe mound to push off when walking. This area of the foot is fascially connected to the outer hips, which house the stabilizing muscles.
- Try a gadget – toe pro, mobo board, nabsoso sensory insoles/socks – I use all of these daily to integrate toe to hip to brain.
I don’t like to tell anyone not to do things, but I will offer a note of caution on elevated heels and flip-flops. Any sort of heel puts the foot into a compromised position, creating excessive loading through the forefoot, knees and lower back. They can even contribute to bunions and nerve damage. Shoes that are too narrow can also contribute to foot pain, nerve issues and bunions in addition to weakening the feet and ankles. Flip-flops are also a concern, as wearing them causes excessive toe gripping, which can contribute to hammer toes. Look for sandals with heel straps. You can find a host of shoes, tips and tools here: https://anyasreviews.com/
Curious to know more? I offer 30-minute consults with anyone interested.
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