By Dr. Brian K. Bailey, Podiatric Physician & Surgeon
Have you ever thought about the important role your feet play in your daily life? On face value, your feet touch the ground whenever you’re standing, walking or running, and they are extensions of the legs, which help move you. But your feet are much more than that. After all, they are the foundation of your body, which means keeping your feet healthy can help keep you healthy.
It Starts With Your Feet
When we walk or run, our body goes through a complex set of steps that makes movement seem smooth and easy. It’s actually a complex cycle called the “gait” or walking cycle. To understand the gait cycle, start with your right heel on the ground in front of you with the rest or your foot in the air. When your heel first hits the ground, it is called “heel strike.” Next, your foot starts to flatten on the ground as it takes on more weight. We call this “mid-stance.” Then the ball of your foot and the toes finally touch down on the ground, just as the heel begins to lift. As the momentum of your body continues to carry you forward, your toes come off the ground and the whole foot/leg gets ready to swing forward.
So, when you walk, one leg is always swinging forward, while the other is bearing the weight of the body. Obviously, the slower you move (e.g., walking), the more likely both feet will be supporting your body weight. The faster you move (e.g., running), the more likely one foot will be supporting body weight at any given time.
A smooth walking or gait cycle means that the forces from the ground should be absorbed by your heels and feet each time you take a step. Energy from the ground and healthy movement is transferred through the feet up into ankles, knees, hips and into the spine, all the way up to the head. Your feet also help you adapt to different terrain like grass, dirt, concrete, etc. It is truly a symphony of movement when we walk.
Relevant Foot Anatomy: The Three Arches
Foot anatomy plays an important role in foot function. For example, do you know how many arches each foot has? If you answered one, you answered like 95 percent of people do – incorrectly. Each foot actually has three arches: one on the inside of the foot, one on the outside and one across the ball of the foot. These arches are all important and must all be functioning pro-perly to facilitate healthy movement and weight-bearing.
When our feet do not have the arch support we now know to be so important, our bodies can start having problems. These problems can start innocently enough, but the consequences can be severe.
Factors That Affect Your Feet (for Better or Worse)
Genetics: You cannot outrun your genes. Flat feet or excessively pronating feet run in families. Parents pass it on to their children. If one parent has flat or collapsed arches, their children will have it also to some degree. If both parents have overpronated feet, their kids will absolutely have flat feet as well. Children are generally checked for this around age 7.
Surfaces: Concrete and stone are the worst surfaces for the feet. Generally, the harder the surface, the more stress on the arches and the faster they will collapse. Dirt, rubber tracks, carpeting and grass are all softer surfaces that offer some cushion to the feet and help to reduce strain and shock.
Shoe types: If you look inside almost every shoe, sandal, flip-flop, boot, etc., you will notice that there may be some inner arch support. Hardly any shoe has outer arch support or support for the arch under the ball of the foot. For this reason, looking for “good” shoes is often a myth.
It is too difficult to list the “good shoes” for you because the best brand or type for you varies based on your feet and your lifestyle.
Orthotics and arch supports: Unfortunately, since most shoes do not have proper arch support, The primary way of helping this problem is custom-made, flexible orthotics that support all three arches of the feet.
Arch supports help to stabilize and support the feet so that they can have healthy movement patterns. This can reduce pain not only in the feet, but in other areas of the body as well.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Good foot and arch health doesn’t just happen; one person might be more inclined to develop foot problems than another, but the fact is, with the amount of time we spend on our feet and their role in our lives, it’s really just a matter of time. Your feet will get bad in the future if you don’t bother helping yourself now, but if you’re already in pain and decide not to do anything about it, things will only get worse with time. This is not to scare you, but to emphasize how important your feet are and teach you to look at your feet in a different way than you may have before.
Ladies, do you know or remember what your mother’s or grandmother’s feet look(ed) like? I’ll bet you do. Probably not a pretty picture. Your feet will look like theirs (and feel like theirs) if you don’t do anything to take care of them. Gentlemen, we tend to not care as much, but get a look (if you can) at your father’s or grandfather’s feet, too, because we will suffer their fate as well without intervention.
We spend much of our lives taking our feet for granted – if we are lucky. If we’re not, we suffer one or more of the painful, often debilitating conditions that can affect the feet. That’s why your feet are so important and why you need to take care of them. Talk to your doctor about the importance of foot health and what you can do to ensure the stability of your foundation- your feet.
Brian K. Bailey, D.P.M., is a podiatrist with Body-Mind-Spirit Podiatric Center in Ashland, Ky. The office is located at 500 14th Street, at the intersection with Central Avenue. New patients are welcome. For more information, please call the office at (606) 324-FOOT (3668).
Dr. Brian K. Bailey is a Podiatric Physician & Surgeon with a private practice located in Ashland, KY. He is also a Clinical Professor of Podiatric Medicine & Surgery at Pikeville College of Osteopathic Medicine and a Personal Wellness Coach & Fitness Trainer. Dr. Bailey has written several books, including: Secrets to Happiness, Inner Peace and Health, Metabolic Syndrome 2011, Nutrients for Prostate Cancer Prevention and Eradication, Breast Cancer Prevention and Wholistic Treatment, and Prostate Cancer Prevention and Wholistic Treatment.
Body-Mind-Spirit Podiatric Center
500 14th Street, Ashland, Kentucky, 41101
Phone (606) 324-FOOT