What is it about a baby’s feet? All soft & squidgy with pudgy little toes. Its quite amazing that these delicate little bundles transform into functional parts of the body that will assist us in traveling roughly twice around the planet, throughout our lifetime. If at the end of this journey you still have perfect feet then you are very, very fortunate (although theoretically at the end of the journey you will be very, very dead so you won’t care if you have foot problems or not).
So, proud foot owner, let us consider some of the various factors that have that can damage your feet en-route.
Foot Factor Number 1 – Maybe she’s born with it…
From the moment we are conceived, we are an amalgamation of genes. Within this genetic blueprint lies a couple of million years worth of evolutionary attributes that combine to give you the building blocks necessary to develop the most evolved human body to date. So just as you may inherit your fathers nose shape or your mothers eyes, you may also inherit foot anomalies or unfortunately disease. A common hereditary attribute is webbed toes, particularly between the little piggy that stayed at home, the one who had roast beef & the one who had none (the middle 3 if you don’t know the nursery rhyme). If you have it – have a look at your family members as well.
Anyway before you even before you take your first step, you may have a natural predisposition to problematic feet courtesy of your ancestors.
One important hereditary point to make is regarding your foot profile or simply put – the shape of your feet. To work efficiently, your foot has to alternate between being relatively flat & loose when weight bearing, to being relatively arched & rigid when you ‘toe-off’ (when your foot leavers off from the ground to take a step). Therefore between being flat & loose & arched & rigid is a certain amount of movement within the joints in the foot. If your ancestors blessed you with a high-arched foot, this movement is relatively minimal & often feels ‘locked-up’. Conversely if you have been blessed with a low-arched foot there is a relatively large amount of movement. These are the extremes & with each comes specific foot issues. It is therefore logical to suppose that between the two extremes lies a ‘normal’ foot? Wrong. There is no such thing as normal. We are all uniquely abnormal (unless you are my clone – you lucky, lucky person). We are all similar but different.
Foot Factor Number 2 – Up & running
At anywhere between 12 to 24 months of age we should be standing & staggering around on two legs. And from that moment on the feet are having to not only support & balance all our body weight, but also become major players in the act of walking (ambulation).
When you are out walking, look at the feet of the person in front. Look specifically at how they place their feet on the ground during each step – are the toes pointing straight(ish) forward or are the feet splayed out to the side like Charlie Chaplin? A lot of people walk with one or both of their feet splayed. I always liken foot placement to that of a plane landing & immediately taking off again. If it is straight – no worries. If it is skewed – oh dear, there’s going to be problems somewhere.
Foot Factor Number 3 – Self abuse
So as we get older, in our hereditary similar-but-different body, our bones have followed the required blueprint & have developed to be roughly aligned & joined to one another in a manner that allows them to function without too much effort. In fact we take functional alignment for granted. Just look at your fingers – give them a wiggle. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Easy. Doesn’t take much effort or thought control. Bend, straighten, repeat. You get the picture. Now with your fingers straight, push a finger sideways, past its normal range of motion & then try & wiggle it. Mmm, It doesn’t want to play. Its stiff/uncomfortable. Therefore from this we can deduce a bone pushed, pulled or positioned out of alignment won’t work properly. So what, dear reader, causes our hereditary, similar-but-different foot bones to move out of alignment once we are up & running? Shoes can have a big influence, but so can tight hosiery. What we choose to do with our feet can also influence bone alignment – I bet Le Jonny Wilkinson has some pretty knarled toes after hoofing the rugby ball so many times in his career. Disease processes* such as Diabetes & arthritis, poor posture, injury, surgery, metabolic disorders, increased body weight such as pregnancy & obesity can all be influences to alignment during weight bearing. The list is quite long & I’ve probably missed a few things as well.
You will notice that the majority of the influences that alter bone alignment are self-induced. We consciously choose to do activities or wear certain items that will alter bone alignment. (* it can be argued that the majority of disease processes are also self-induced in that we choose how we live our lives & in what environment we operate. Eg eating to many pies will make you fat, eating too much sugar will give you diabetes & sitting in a traffic jam will pump you full of pollutants).
Let me put all this into an everyday common scenario. Say you are a late teen-twenty-thirty something out shopping along Oxford Street in your best ballet style shoes. After an hour or two of pavement pounding you develop tenderness around your big toe joint, burning under the balls of the feet & blisters on the tops of the other toes. This is nothing new, you say, it happens all the time. So what could be going on? Say you are blessed with your hereditary, similar-but-different flat(ish) foot shape. Your ballet shoes unfortunately provide next to no support or shock absorption against the solid ground. As a result with each step, your body weight is pushing down & collapsing the foot (flat & loose) unopposed with just a flimsy sole & a not so flimsy pavement to cushion your precious feet. A few milliseconds after the foot has landed, (roughly as the opposite leg is swinging through in mid-air) the leg & foot muscles are contracting sharply to allow the foot to form an arched & rigid position ready for ‘toe-off’. Multiply this action by a few thousand times & its fair to say that you feet & legs are probably aching somewhat in your lovely ballet shoes. What do you do? With all the work involved, your body starts to tire & to take short cuts to make you feel comfortable. You might hobble & take shorter steps. In addition instead of ‘Toeing-off’ with your feet pointing straight forward, you splay them very slightly outwards (say at ten to two position on the clock face). Only a very subtle change in foot position (alignment), but it causes you to roll off the side of the big toe (imagine the rolling action of taking a fingerprint). Now, if you think about how easy it was to bend your finger sideways, just think of all your body weight pushing rolling over the side of the big toe. Et voila, your big toe is now being shoved out of alignment. And just like your finger it reduces its functional movement & it starts to complain. You you now have a hurty big toe that doesn’t work properly. But now the other toes have their own issues. With the big toe semi-defunct, the lesser toes try to stabilise the foot by gripping (clawing) the ground, which starts to overload the natural fatty padding under the balls of the feet. This pronounced toe movement causes the tops of the toes to rub on the shoe, triggering blisters to form.
So the question is, at this stage do you immediately buy a comfortable pair of shoes designed for walking & then seek professional advice, or do you ignore it & go for a G & T? (Mine’s a pint BTW)
In summary – we are born with feet that may or may not predispose us to problems, we then stand & walk on them & then we do stuff that messes with the alignment. Only then, when they hurt, do we think of doing something about it (Over a G & T).
Next time – What foot problems are available?