Are Your Feet Killing You? Happier, Pain-Free Feet With Somatics

The feet are an integral part of our balancing system. They are the means through which we meet the ground and negotiate the surface upon which we walk.

When we sprain an ankle or suffer a lower leg injury we lose the ability to walk in a balanced way and are more likely to re-injure the same joint. We habituate to the Trauma Reflex and may even walk with a limp. When our backs become chronically tight (Green Light Reflex) we may find ourselves walking heavily and heel-striking loudly. We may even experience shin splits when we run in this situation.

Humans are the only perfectly bipedal being on earth. When all goes well, our feet coordinatetogether beautifully with the legs, pelvis, and somatic center so we can stand up in gravity and move forward.

Many people, however, stuff their feet into hard, narrow shoes, put them into artificial and unnatural positions (such as when wearing high heels), and "support them" with orthotics and thick sneakers; both orthotics and thick "supportive" shoes only "prop up" the problems in the center of the body. They in fact, can make things worse by preventing our feet from sensing and feeling the surface they stand on and responding to the sensory feedback that would ideally help them know where they are in space. Our proprioceptive abilities diminish the more we have between our feet and the ground beneath them.

Some people are told that problems such as hammertoe, bunions, and neuromas are always heredity structural problems when, in many cases, they can develop due to functional imbalances in the center of the body.  When we stop training our feet to sense and feel we can forget how to use our feet and toes over time.

The muscles of the feet are no different from any other muscles in the body: they can learn to be flexible, responsive to movement, and highly efficient. They can also learn to stay tight and contracted, making walking unpleasant, cumbersome, clumsy and painful -  especially when barefoot. Sensory motor training can help prevent the need for orthotics as you regain the ability to walk smoothly, lightly and evenly, using both legs and feet.

Problems of the feet develop in the lower leg due to imbalances in the muscles of the center of the body.

How often have you stopped and noticed your feet and how your weight is distributed through your feet? Do you clutch your toes? If you tend to lean forward, slightly slumped in your posture, and stuck in the Red Light Reflex, you probably do. Clutching your toes keeps you from falling forward! This suggests a lack of balance in the center of the body. When you stand or walk do you tend to roll in or out on your feet? Notice this next time you walk. Notice whether you put more weight on one leg and foot than the other when you walk. Then make a note of which foot is more sore or painful (or has a bunion).

Feet 2
Feet 2

The more you move your feet the better your balance and gait will be.

In my book, Move Without Pain, I recommend getting reacquainted with your feet by playing with them. Did you ever wonder why babies play with their feet? They are a vast resource of information that provides critically important information for the brain. Once we stand up to gravity that information can help us with our proprioception and balance.

Check out this fun video tutorial taught by Laura Gates, CHSE. She will show you some easy, pleasant self-care pandiculations you can do for more flexible, "intelligent" and happy feet. These movements will remind the muscles of the feet (and lower legs) to stay relaxed and ready for action. Remember, the first step to happy feet is learning to regain sensation and control of  the tight muscles of the back, waist and abdominals so you can stand easily in a balanced, neutral position. Then play with the movements on this video and enjoy your smooth, easy walk.

 

Video Tips: Eliminate Foot Pain, Plantar Fasciitis, and Heel Pain

Plantar fasciitis begins in the center of your body and works its way out to the periphery.

In this post I described the Clinical Somatic approach to plantar fasciitis.  It's not simply a condition of the feet, but a lack of control in the muscles of the lower leg as well. Let's recap the steps to eliminating plantarfasciitis (and other general pain in your feet):

  • Determine whether or not you have imbalances in the large muscles of your core: the back, waist, abdominal muscles. (Scroll down on this blog post for an awareness exercise that will help you.) Remember: accidents, injuries and stress can cause Sensory Motor Amnesia, which alters your sensory awareness of how you stand, walk, and move.
  • Begin learning how to relieve muscle pain and regain your sense of self-awareness. Restoring muscle control in the center of the body allows the periphery - the feet, knees and lower legs, to move more easily.
  • Here are some basic movements that will begin to teach you to release the muscles of the core for more ease of movement. A hiked hip or twisted pelvis can result in a leg length discrepancy, an altered gait and lower leg muscles that work too hard. The most common pattern of muscular contraction with plantar fasciitis involves tight gluteal muscles, a tight lower back on the same side as the painful foot, and tight lower leg muscles. In this post are links to several movements that will to slowly reverse some of the painful muscular tightness that adversely affects one's gait and contributes to plantar fasciitis.
  • Wear thinner footwear (or go barefoot, if possible). Lems Shoes and SoftStarShoes are terrific and comfortable shoes. Read this article about shoes, in which orthopedist Philip Lewin describes how there is a sensory foot/body, foot/brain connection vital to body stability, equilibrium, and gait.
  • Learn to stand straight  in a relaxed, tall posture.
  • Lastly, try the movements on this video to directly release the muscles of the lower leg. The best way to approach muscle pain is to release muscle imbalance in the center of the body first and then release the muscles of the lower leg for easy, smooth movement.  If you attempt to fix your pain by addressing just one area of the body it often doesn't work for the long term - just like attempting to spot reduce those thighs (or buttocks or belly).

Stretching does not eliminate pain. Pandiculation is more effective and safer than stretching.

The technique I demonstrate in this video is called pandiculation. It is not stretching! Stretching is passive and can cause muscles to become tighter. Pandiculation is active and teaches muscles to move more efficiently. It resets the brain's sensation and control of muscles and movement and is the most rapid and effective way to reverse chronic pain. Stretching is passive and does not reeducate muscles that have learned to stay tight due to overuse, stress reflexes or accidents. If you want more efficient muscles that can be recruited rapidly, learn to pandiculate.

 

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Click here for my easy-to-follow instructional DVDs.

Using the Feet for Better Movement

I have a client who complained to me that she can get down on the floor, but she can't get up. She loves to garden, but has resigned herself to bending over at the waist, with knees bent slightly, in order to plant, dig ,or pull weeds. This, she admits, only causes back pain.

Use full body movement to get up off the floor.

Last week I taught her a simple way of getting up off the floor. She can get onto her hands and knees with no problem. It's getting from her knees to her feet that poses the challenge. I taught her to tuck her toes under (like a runner at the starting line), then rock herself back and forth, from her hands to her toes - sensing the shift in weight from her hands to her feet. Then, when she felt balanced, she pushed with her hands and rocked back onto her feet, and slowly came up to standing. She did it twice and was very excited!

Get to know your feet. They're a crucial part of the sensory motor system.

When she returned to me last week she told me that she had a lot of trouble with the exercise and wasn't sure she could do it. She also mentioned "I absolutely hate going barefoot, even at the beach. It's torture!"  Sensing the root of her problem, I immediately segued into a lesson about her feet. For 20 minutes I had her play with her toes: stretching them, pulling them, seeing how far apart she could get one from the other, slowly pointing and flexing. I told her that the feet are one of the body's most important sensory organs, and that, when constantly confined to shoes, they lose muscle control and sensation.  Loss of awareness of one's feet, and the wearing of cushioned shoes is also implicated in an increased number of falls in senior citizens. I suggested taking every opportunity she could to walk barefoot.

When you can sense your feet you will move more easily.

Finally I had her stand up. She was shocked at how she was able to sense her feet and move them easily. She exclaimed, "I can lift my toes! I can't remember the last time I did that!" She wondered if "making friends" with her feet wouldn't maybe make barefoot walking more pleasant. I assured her it would.

Then I explained that, in attempting to rock back onto her feet to get up, her feet hadn't been able to feel the ground and help her out. She'd been missing a crucial part of the movement! Without feeling in her feet she hadn't been "grounded" enough for the muscles of her feet to flex and push to help her get up. Once she regained voluntary movement in her toes and feet, then she her "getting up off the floor" exercise would be a breeze! Reeducating her feet would improve her balance and stability as well.

Take a few minutes and play with your feet.

Stand and slowly roll up onto the balls of your feet, and then come down. Pull your toes, and notice how far up the leg the sensation goes. Then take a walk. Your feet will thank you.

Being able to sense and move the muscles of the feet is another factor in relieving back, hip and knee pain. Remember that the body is connected as a whole. When we walk, if we're unaware of how our feet meet the ground, we may be pounding down in a way that actually contributes to knee and hip pain. This pounding can, in turn, work its way up to the back.