To Your Health
October, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 10)
Why Are Your Feet So Important?
By Dr. Kevin Wong
Have you ever thought about the important role your feet play in your daily life? I'm serious. 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
It Starts With Your Feet: The Gait Cycle
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. (Keep in mind that a cycle starts in one place and eventually ends at that same point.) 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 properly to facilitate healthy movement and weight-bearing.
Common Foot Conditions
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. Here are a few of the common problems that can affect your feet:
- Excessive Supination: If your arches are too high or over-supported, we call this "excessive supination." People who excessively supinate have trouble wearing certain shoes that are too tight because they create pressure on the top of the foot and the ball of the foot. Excessive supination occurs in about 3 percent of the world's population.
- Excessive Pronation: A more common occurrence is something called "excessive pronation," which means the arches actually fall toward the floor or flatten out. If you look at most people's feet, you will see this happening. Let's think about the concept of an overly-pronated foot for a second. Stand up and make your feet fall or collapse inward by rolling your feet toward one another. Do you feel the stress on your body? Keep your feet collapsed and close your eyes. Feel the strain on the inside of your ankles, the inside of your knees, the outside of your hips and possibly into your lower back? The stress moves up through your spine to the shoulders, the neck and the head. There are many painful conditions related to your arches collapsing and your feet excessively pronating, including bunions, corns, callouses and toes that stick up or off to the side.