The feet are one of the most neglected area of the human body, yet they are an integral part of our balancing system. Humans are the only perfectly bipedal being on earth. When all goes well, our feet coordinate together beautifully with the legs, pelvis and somatic center so we can stand up in gravity and move forward.
Many people, however, stuff their feet into hard leather shoes, put them into artificial and unnatural positions (think high heeled shoes), “support them” with orthotics and squishy sneakers and actually hinder them from sensing and feeling the ground and responding to the sensory feedback that would ideally help them know where they are in space. Some people are told that problems such as hammertoes, bunions and neuromas are heredity structural problems when, in fact, they are functional problems of the sensory motor system. When we stop training our feet to sense and feel we can forget how to use our feet and toes over time.
The muscles of the feet are no different from any other muscles in the body: they can learn to be flexible, responsive to movement and efficient. They can also learn to stay tight and contracted, making walking unpleasant, cumbersome, clumsy and, for some, painful - especially when barefoot.
Here’s the thing: problems of the feet develop in the lower leg due to imbalances in the center of the body. How often have you stopped and noticed your feet and how your weight is distributed through your feet. Do you clutch your toes? If you tend to lean forward, slightly slumped in your posture, you probably do. Clutching your toes keeps you from falling forward! When you stand or walk do you tend to roll in or out on your feet? Notice this next time you walk. Notice whether you put more weight on one leg and foot than the other when you walk. Then make a note of which foot is more sore or painful (or has a bunion).
The more you move your feet the better your balance and gait will be. In my book, Move Without Pain, I recommend getting reacquainted with your feet by playing with them. Did you ever wonder why babies play with their feet? They are a vast resources of information that provides critically important information for the brain. Once we stand up to gravity that information can help us with our proprioception and balance.
Laura Gates, Certified Hanna Somatic Educator, taught a group of my Clinical Somatic Education practitioners-in-training in Europe how to explore the muscles and movement of the feet for happier, more flexible and “intelligent” feet. Below is an easy, fun video of her as she gives a tutorial about how to remind the muscles of the feet (and lower legs) to stay relaxed and ready for action.