How to fix your funky feetApr 16, 2021
Most of us have suffered from foot pain or a foot injury at some point in our running careers. The truth is, foot injuries are really common amongst runners. Specific foot injuries such as plantar fasciitis, can take time a long time to settle down (sometimes a year or two, yikes!) and can sometimes represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to running injuries.
One of the reasons is that your feet have so much weight behind them when you run, and the repetitive motion of running can exacerbate any minor or major issues.
Your feet also have more nerve endings than your hands, as well as more joints and muscles. In a nutshell, they’re more sensitive. But the good news is, your feet are really tough and adaptable. Humans went through the ice age bare foot and can live in the desert without shoes. There are a few simple things you can do to fix your “funky feet” as we like to call them! While it won’t miraculously change overnight, these tried-and-tested strategies do work.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to seek professional assistance if you’re struggling with a particular foot injury, but here are a few things to consider when building stronger, more resilient feet:
1 Develop independent toe control
The more supple and agile your feet are, the better. Your feet shouldn’t be flat, stiff objects at the bottom of your body, they’re designed to move.
To develop independent toe control, practice wriggling your feet in your shoes or when you’re barefoot as often as you remember.
- Lift your big toe up, while keeping your other 4 toes down
- Then switch it up (so big toe down, and other 4 toes up).
This simple move will increase mobility, flexibility and control in your toes and feet.
2 Control your centre of mass
This is one of the most important things you can do to improve your running form and prevent injuries.
If you stand and lean forward like the Leaning Tower Of Pisa, you’ll notice that your toes immediately hit down into the ground. You may also feel your plantar fascia ligament and your Achilles tighten – which could cause tightness in that area. It’s not an ideal walking or running position because if you’re constantly “loaded” on your toes and forefoot, you’re more than likely going to experience restricted blood flow, increased tension and rigidity.
The truth is, your feet are strong and can withstand large amounts of pressure, but this strength is very specific and directional. For instance, research shows that around 10 tons of force goes through the feet when you sprint – as your fascia ligaments and surrounding tissues act like a suspension bridge and wrap around the main bone in each foot. However, if you had to drop a 20kg plate on top of your foot, it would break immediately.
You’re just not meant to walk around with feet that are constantly engaged in that protective mechanism. The tension will eventually travel up the Achilles, up the back of your legs, and move into your back and spine – less than ideal!
You want variable, adaptable feet which are strong, yet supple and mobile, not tight and tense.
Also read my blog on why controlling your centre of mass is vital for running.
3 Practice the forward shift when running
When it comes to running form, you often hear people and so-called experts talk about leaning forward to run faster, but this isn’t optimal. A forward lean will only put more pressure on your feet and toes as they slam down into the ground with every stride. This can cause a host of problems with your running form.
Whether you’re walking, jogging or running, you should be able to wiggle your toes around in your shoes at any given time. This is key to normalise your posture so that you’re in an upright, centred position when you move with a slight shift forward, rather than a lean.
WATCH this video to find out how to practice the forward shift, rather than the forward lean:
4 Think about the shoes you wear
I’m not just talking about running shoes here – all the shoes you wear day in and day out, will impact your feet in some way. If your feet are prone to injury, assess whether your casual shoes have a high “heel to toe drop”.
Having raised heels that lift you up and “force” you onto your forefoot – can tighten your plantar fascia ligament as well as your other foot structures. This can result in restrictive blood flow, tight feet and that “sprinters protective guard” which can reduce mobility in the foot as it’s tight and rigid when you walk or run. Ladies who love high heels, beware!
I personally wear minimal shoes with a zero “heel to toe drop” as often as possible. I walk with sandals that have a heel strap and avoid flip flops as some brands can trigger the “toe going down” reflex which can lock up the feet and intrinsic feet muscles. Xero shoes or Earth Runners are great.
My clients often ask me if they need orthotics. And my answer is twofold. Orthotics that provide relief are okay but you want to transition out of them in time and strengthen your own feet. A full-length, rigid orthotic will block forefoot to rearfoot movement. And that just makes your feet lock up even more. For a full explanation on orthotics, read my blog on running without orthotics.
To prevent and hopefully avoid injuries, it’s important to learn how to regulate your nervous system, take the pressure off your feet, and soften up your Achilles, make your feet flexible and adaptable so that you increase the blood flow in that region.
If you struggle to walk barefoot, or over uneven or rough terrain, chances are your feet are unreactive and locked and you need to do some work on them.
Try these mobility movements
While they’re not for your feet only, the “Only Drill You Need For Running” and the “Happy Penguin” are two great mobility sequences for your feet.
When you do the Only Drill, you’ll notice your feet should start softening and relaxing from this position. The Happy Penguin is a great whole-body movement that helps to ground you and control your centre of mass, which in turn, will take pressure off your feet.
If you do the Happy Penguin, within 2-6 weeks, you’ll start to feel that there’s more space in your joints – and you’ll start to feel more flexible everywhere in your body. Clients who consistently practice the Happy Penguin have reported less foot pain over a short period of time. It works!
Remember, when it comes to fixing your feet, there’s no quick fix, it takes time, patience and consistency.
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