Written by: Dr. Mehran Tabrizi, Chiropractor, Cambridge Clinic
They say the only two things of which we can be certain are death and taxes. But, when it comes to foot care, there are two other constants: gravity and ground reaction force.
It is estimated that average weight-bearing activities demand 2-3 million duty cycles of the foot and ankle per year. When walking, the amount of impact is 1.5 times our body weight of force into the ground, with 2.5 times energy return—or shock going back into the system. With running, the impact is 3-4 times our body weight, with five times energy return.
When we consider this amount of load through our feet, we begin to understand that building foot strength and a resilient system to manage those forces is key. The feet are the lynch pin for a lot of injuries and performance limitations, and the way the forces are distributed throughout the body and how we carry the load affects everything up the chain.
From the perspective of longevity, as we get older, neuronal degeneration starts distally at the feet, and there has been a correlation noted between foot speed reduction and onset of Alzheimer's.
From an evolutionary and neurobiological perspective, our feet take up a lot of cortical real estate, so their influence on our ambulation and health over the long haul is no surprise. As our system has evolved, the environment has changed so that we walk on more smooth and less varied surfaces. Shoes, or “foot coffins”, as they have been called, have also decreased the amount of sensory input we receive through our feet and the work they have to do. Researcher Irene Davis found that people who wear orthotics have 10-17% reduction in cross-sectional muscle mass in the feet so, regardless of support, there is a degree of active participation required to keep our feet in good condition.
Having established the importance of foot care, here are a few exercises to add to your regime:
- Wringing the forefoot.
Place your five fingers between your toes and gently twist from side to side. This helps to ensure adequate mobility to distribute the forces we mentioned.
- Single leg heel raise.
Supporting yourself with your hands on a wall, standing on one leg, and coming up onto your toes helps to build foot and calf strength. From a more holistic view, balance, coordination, and a cognitive reset are also part of training the foot, and this activity helps to tick a few of those boxes. If you have your eyes closed, it adds to the difficulty. Try 3 sets of 15.
- Toe lift.
Having trained the back of the lower leg and sole of foot with the previous exercise, this one works on the opposite muscle groups. Standing with your back toward a wall, about 30cm away, lean back and practice keeping your heels down while lifting the front of your foot up. Try 30 repetitions of this.
An advanced activity that captures all three of these exercises is to walk backwards—doing so on a treadmill without turning it on allows you to practice this safely.
It is said that good defence wins championships, and starting with these exercises gives you that defensive prehab to overcome your limitations in performance. To learn more about the amazing adaptivity of the system and the offence that takes your training, performance, and health to the next level, stay tuned for details about an upcoming complimentary Foot Strengthening Workshop on March 1, 2022 at 5:30pm in the Cambridge Club gym. To reserve your space in the Workshop or if you have questions, please reach out to Dr. Tabrizi.