Our feet are a marvel of anatomical engineering. They act as our bodies built-in shock absorbers, allowing us to pivot, jump, walk and run. Our feet play a vital role in performance and health, and carry us from A to B throughout thousands of steps each day.
However, our feet are prone to weakness and poor function just like any part of our bodies. When our feet aren’t able to effectively bear load and dissipate the forces of walking and descending stairs, other tissues and structures must pick up the slack. Such outcomes commonly present as Achilles and calf pain, shin splints, knee and hip pain; lower back pain, Sciatica, and postural problems.
Believe it or not, many of these symptoms can be traced back to weak and unstable feet.
What factors lead to weak feet?
A major culprit for the development of weak feet is the footwear we choose to wear each day. Years of lacing up in shoes that bear no resemblance to the shape of our feet negatively alters the structure and integrity of the toes and feet; shoes with too much cushioning and support lead to weakness throughout the intrinsic muscles of the foot, which can contribute to further loss of arch height and affected movement patterns; shoes with an elevated heel lead to shortening of the calves and Achilles tendons, placing us at risk of a multitude of joint issues throughout the lower limbs, pelvis and trunk.
Many shoes today are designed to look a certain way, rather than compliment the natural design of our foot. The four-minute doco Shoespiracy sheds light on a ‘shoe-shaped’ public health scandal.
As discussed in Shoespiracy, spending less and less time barefoot as a Western civilisation has weakened the neural connections between our brains and feet. The souls of our feet have approximately 200,000 nerve endings to feel the earth and ground beneath us. When we wear shoes that are ‘over-cushioned’ for the sake of appearance alone, the connection between our feet and mother earth is inhibited to such an extent that this brain – foot neural pathway begins to atrophy and wither away. When working with older patients who report loss of balance, I make a point of prescribing time barefoot, to help restore this important neurological connection!
So what can we do about this?
To buck the trend of wearing shoes designed not with the best interests of our marvellous feet in mind, Restart has established an affiliation with Sole Distribution, an Australian company that retails Vivo Barefoot shoes. Vivo Barefoot’s mantra regarding footwear can be summed up by the following…
The goal of our affiliation is to link our patients with a range of footwear that is likely to better support improved foot health, with the purpose of guiding them towards stronger feet. We want to help each of our patients connect with the best shoe for them, a shoe that will enable their foot to load more effectively and unlock a vast array of stored potential and functional benefits!
At Restart, we love to adopt an holistic nature to health and well-being. Treating the feet as a body part that can be strengthened and levelled-up just like the core or the Glutes is an important step to take. Our body isn’t broken up into segments or parts; it functions collectively, and a strong, healthy foundation is vitally important to building a robust, functional body. We commonly see patients report reduced back pain and Sciatica via the prescription of foot-specific strengthening exercises, and the prescription of mobility tools such as Wild Toes (see below).
Via another business affiliation, this time with The Foot Collective Australia, we have access to numerous foot enhancing tools. The Wild Toes for example help to better mobilise the toes through the creation of greater space between each toe. If you can’t perform the following, a pair of Wild Toes are recommended (we retail these at each of our clinics).
With shoes and socks off, can you…?
- See space between your toes at rest, or are they bunched together?
- Keep your big toe straight when you raise it, or does it angle inwards towards your second toe?
- Elevate your big toe independent of your smaller toes?
- Elevate your smaller toes whilst keeping your big toe grounded?
- Perform a toe piano, lowering from pinky toe to big toe, and back the other way?
Ideally our toes have room to move independently, however many of us have spent a lifetime in shoes that have bunched our toes together, thereby diminishing and limiting their movement and function. It’s easy to correlate how having stiff and rigid toes can affect the suspension capabilities of our entire foot. If you found the five above tasks difficult, a foot coordination and strengthening program is in order.
What else can we do to build stronger feet?
Making the transition to a more minimalist-type shoe as made by Vivo Barefoot is a strong step in the right direction. In contrast to most mainstream shoes, Vivo Barefoot shoes are:
- Flat with no heel pitch (raised heel), mirroring how our feet have evolved;
- Have minimal cushioning to allow our 200,000+ nerve endings to feel the earth beneath us and establish a robust foot-brain connection;
- A spacious toe box to allow the fore-foot and toes space to move to transition away from the squashing effect seen in many everyday shoes;
- Very flexible in all planes to allow for natural foot movement, allowing the tissues of the feet to flex, bend and adapt to the world around us;
- A more malleable heel to once again allow freedom of movement throughout the entire foot.
It is important to have a transition plan in place however (from your current shoe to a barefoot shoe), as moving into a more minimal shoe will unlock and awaken many tissues throughout the feet that have been under-utilised for some time. This may cause soreness and fatigue. This is where we as Exercise Physiologists can provide support and guidance. We can also link in with your Podiatrist to ensure considerations are made in light of orthotics you may be wearing.
Slowly spending more time barefoot, increasing time wearing Vivos, and actively working on any prescribed foot strengthening exercises will unlock a surprising number of benefits.
Restart + Sole Distribution & Vivo Barefoot
As part of our Sole Distribution affiliation, we now offer sizing options to determine the best fit for you in a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes. Personally, I am a massive advocate for Vivos, having worn them myself for work, exercise and everyday wear for around six years now. Such are the benefits (comfort, performance, ethical – Vivo have vegan shoes, a line of shoes made with algae, and offer a sole re-purposing option to reduce landfill) I don’t ever see myself returning to a more ‘mainstream’ shoe. Naturally, I want to help those close to me experience the same foot-enhancing benefits to build stronger and more capable bodies from the ground up!
We are confident that once you feel how comfortable Vivos are; how they provide space for your toes to splay and activate; and how they allow your foot to reconnect with the ground beneath you, you won’t want to go back to wearing any other shoe.