Thursday, 7 May 2009

Do You Have Flat Feet?

Do you have lifeless feet, dropped arches? About 30% of us have. For many people they do not cause problems, but for others they are part of the jigsaw of reasons for their knee pains, or back pains. Many of my clients have this condition: they don't come to me because of their feet, but usually because they have low back pain. By improving the strength and resilience of the feet, other joints, including the spine are put under less strain.

Your feet contain one quarter of the bones in the body: that's amazing! There are 26 bones in each foot, out of a total body count of 204. As the "average person" you might take between 8 and 10,000 steps a day, and each step bears at least your body weight - when you run it's more.
There is a connection between poor foot alignment and postural problems and back pain. Your feet are the foundations to your moving body with three basic functions. They absorb impact, and carry your entire body weight. (Many foot problems are experienced by the overweight, not surprisingly.). They act as a lever, propelling you forward. They also compensate when your balance is challenged, by doing their darndest to keep you upright.

Arches give strength to constructions: (think of a simple arched bridge, or more complicated vaulted cathedrals - both rely on the same principle), and the well aligned human body is a series of arches, from the feet, to the s curves of the spine.

The "normal" foot has two arches: one runs lengthways, the other widthways. In normal standing, a third of the inner side of the foot, formed by these two arches, should be off the floor. If it isn't, you have flat feet (also known as over-pronation). (The other extreme is to have high arches (over-supination), where there is a tendency to walk primarily on the outside of the foot.).

Flat feet are often associated with inefficient side bum, and inner thigh muscles: this often leads to knees which track towards each other.

Orthotics, supports, which fit in your shoes, are one possible solution.
Part of my work with clients with dropped arches is to get them to exercise the arches of their feet, and so develop strength and change in this way. Of course we also look at the rest of the body, with specific exercises to improve their alignment, strength and balance, as well as the feet.

Exercises to correct dropped arches, bunions, and hammer toes
These are the exercises we use, and you may find them helpful to do. (A very small percentage have congenitally flat feet and no amount of exercises will make a difference.)
You will need a tennis ball or similar - we use "spiky balls" in class.
Standing. Repeat about 10 times on each foot for each exercise - it will take about 5 minutes.

1)Knead one foot on the ball from your toes to your heels . (not pictured).

2) Try to pick up the ball in your toes: as you do it extend your toes away from the ball, and then contract them around it.

3) Work specifically on the arches by trying to curve the arch of your foot around the ball.

4) Without the ball now - in standing, keeping your toes as relaxed as possible, draw the ball of your foot towards your heel.

5) Rise up on the balls of your feet. Keep your toes down, and your weight evenly on the inside and outside of your foot. When you lower your foot, use the underside of the toes and arches to pull you down to the floor. (not pictured)

Flat feet are often associated with inefficient side bum muscles: this leads to knees which track towards each other, so.......
6) small squat. Hinge at the hips and the knee and sit back, as if you were sitting in a chair. Have a look at your kneecap/toe alignment. Your knees should be over your 2nd/3rd toes, not your big toes. If necessary, place a football between your knees to keep this alignment. This will turn your side-bum muscles on. (not pictured).

If you do these exercises regularly, you should see a difference in the shape of your foot, as the arches strengthen. From my personal experience, I watched my left over pronated foot gain an arch and lose a bunion, as my foot learnt to carry my weight in a more balanced and efficient way.

For classes on these exercises, and many others for a balanced, well-aligned body, see