Feet first!

This article was written some two decades ago by the wonderful, and much missed, Lucy Martin, a former Vice President of FLexercise. It is informative, interesting and well worth reading. The only thing that has really changed over time is the popularity of trainers – now every occasion footwear for a great many people!

Feet First!

Not everyone would agree perhaps, but it has been suggested that the feet are two of the most neglected and least beautiful parts of the human anatomy. They spend a considerable amount of time encased in shoes, which don’t always fit properly or allow the feet to breathe or function properly.

So, what is their job? They are not just for standing on! They take our body weight, propel us forward (at speed if necessary), provide us with elevation to jump, act as shock absorbers on landing and cope with undulating surfaces.

Feet need to be strong and mobile, and their component parts – many small bones held in place with ligaments, tendons and muscles – are structured in such a way that this is achieved. Sadly, like so much else, the greater the complexity, the more there is to go wrong. Take the arches of the feet – everyone knows you have an arch along the inside of the foot, more pronounced in some than others, but usually there. The bones which form the arches are arranged in much the same way as bridges are designed. The arch structure actually increases the weight bearing properties of the feet. Sometimes, through weak muscles, stretched ligaments or bad footwear, this arch drops and can be uncomfortable. Arch pads placed in the shoes will give relief, but it is more important to strengthen the muscles and regain the correct alignment through exercise. How important it is therefore, to look after our feet, let them breathe, keep them mobile, improve the circulation and strengthen the intrinsic muscles. In a nutshell – use, don’t abuse, your feet.

For practical reasons in everyday life you need to wear shoes, and if you are jogging, or taking part in other high impact exercise, it is wise to wear good, supportive trainers. Having said this, it is equally important to discard your shoes sometimes.

Some simple exercises

Regularly done these exercises, performed seated, will help to keep your feet fit. Go gently, without forcing the movements, particularly if you are trying them for the first time. Choose a sturdy chair, where you can sit comfortably, with both feet flat on the floor. Remember – good posture at all times!

1: Point and stretch: For increased ankle mobility and circulation to the feet. Point the toes down to the floor, feeling the stretch along the top of your foot. Reverse the action by taking the toes upwards, stretching the heel. Relax.

2: Toe stretch: With the toes flat on the floor, lift the heel and gently press on the ball of the foot, stretching the muscles in the bottom of the foot. Relax.

3: Rotation:  To strengthen the muscles on the outside of the ankle, an area that can be vulnerable to being accidentally wrenched and weakened. Circle the foot from the ankle. Don’t cut corners. After circling a few times one way, reverse. Relax.

4: Dexterity: Place a small group of marbles on the floor. Using your toes, pick up one at a time. Replace the marbles in a group about 10 centimetres away.

5: Massage: Gently relax and massage the sole of the foot. Place a small, soft rubber ball on the floor and roll your foot over it.

Arch strengthening

Inside arch: To help lift the inside arch and strengthen the muscles involved, sit with the feet slightly apart and parallel. Allow the weight to go towards the outer edge of the feet, lift the inside arch by scrunching your toes under as much as you can. Hold for five slow counts and then let them relax. Repeat.

Metatarsal arch: To strengthen the metatarsal arch, which spans across the widest part of the foot, sit as before, but work on one foot at a time. Imagine a dot in the centre of your foot. Try and draw your foot in towards the dot without curling the toes under. Flatten the toes, feel as though you are dragging them towards the main part of the foot. Use the floor for some resistance as the foot narrows and shortens. Hold the position, then relax. Repeat.

A little extra care

Taking a little extra care of your feet can pay dividends too. Try to form the following good habits:

  • Pumice the hard skin away, and attend to corns before they become a problem.
  • Dry carefully between the toes.
  • Massage in some lotion or cream – peppermint foot lotion is lovely!
  • To help prevent an ingrown nail, and a very sore toe, cut your toenails straight across rather than shaping them.

Your feet may not be beautiful, but they will appreciate the exercise and extra care, and serve you well.

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