Human Beings and their bipedal primate ancestors have been walking for more than 4 million years. Although they may have used some form of foot covering, these did not evolve into the appliance that we think of as a shoe until perhaps 150 years ago. Consequently, it is easy to assume that the structure and function of the foot is a refined mechanism for connecting directly with the ground and that shoes are a compensative innovation for having to spend our days walking on cobblestones or concrete. Shoes can interfere with expressing native foot functions and therefore exercising the innate mechanisms discussed in this section is best-done barefoot1. There is a deeper discussion on this topic in the section on footwear.
Native foot functions require a firm grip with the ground. Bodyweight is the opposing force to the action of these functions2, and when the foot slips they misfire to some degree. The sensory mechanisms in the foot are based on this grip, and when the sensory input to the function is diminished or absent, the function is compromised. This is even true for wearing socks, as they do not enable the prerequisite traction. Without adequate sensory input, the functions will atrophy which then requires that we replace innate function (shock absorption/structure support/energy return) with appliances such as cushioned insoles, orthotics, or even surgery.
Unfortunately, our modern world does not offer many opportunities for safe and socially acceptable barefoot walking. One of the few places is on beach sand, which is suboptimal for this type of exercise. Around the house, on hardwood or another surface with good traction is perhaps the only place where you can get some practice in on a daily basis. Combined with accommodating footwear1, this may be adequate to keep the feet happy. A designed environment that supports natural foot function would include rough floors (e.g. slate) that encourage the full range of response of the feet.
1 A description of this author’s opinion of appropriate footwear can be perused in the section on FOOTWEAR
2 The sections on Tensegrity and Gravity explore how aligning bodyweight optimizes load-bearing through the feet:
We need to crawl before we can walk. Very few of us mastered crawling before we progressed to figuring out how to walk, and there is a benefit in continuing to developing our crawling automaticities to improve how we crawl with “archetypal” crawling. Crawling on other floor exercises are an excellent means to improve our sense of feeling well regulated and to encourage healing.
A description of archetypal crawling:
The more efficient our crawling, the more fluid our bipedal gait will be. There is a consensus among some developmental physiology oriented therapists that regular crawling can cure almost any ill, as it helps to reintegrate our high-level modern neurophysiology with our more ancient, enabling bringing greater resources to any issue.
To assist with the transformation of feet from compensatory to adaptive, use of this product (or similar) on a daily basis while training, and on a continuing basis as needed is strongly recommended:
This tool is documented to reduce Plantar Fascitis, Bunions and Hammertoes if used in the recommended protocol.
Footwear and our modern lifestyle can greatly degrade foot function. If foot function is compromised there are two options:
1) Add Orthotics or some form of a compensatory mechanism. The issue with doing this is that there is a likelihood of progressive degeneration, where more aggressive compensatory mechanisms become necessary.
2) Drive the foot back into better functionality.
Option #2 is the purpose of this section on Feet. Driving the foot into a more functional state requires an understanding of what proper foot function is – how to properly use our feet. However, our toes may have become so misaligned that they are unable to engage with foot function as described in this section. If this is the case, it is possible to realign the toes over time using toe separators:
These are usually used overnight, although some people like to walk around the house in them too.
EXERCISE FOR USING THE OUTSIDE EDGE OF ONE FOOT
TO CORRECT BIG TOE ALIGNMENT OF THE OTHER FOOT
RUNNING ON FLAT SURFACES
Living in a world made from flat surfaces is a wonderful human innovation, but not one without costs. One of the risks of running on flat surfaces is that our running gait becomes too rhythmic (we get into the groove) and the pressure waves rattling around in the body can interfere, creating momentary high-pressure gradients – commonly at articulations where the density of tissue changes. Treadmills have this same hazard of locked-in rhythm and a hard, flat surface. This issue is especially relevant when running on concrete. Because of its high-density, concrete reflects almost all of the energy directed into the ground in stride back into the foot, acting as an acoustic mirror. The high-frequency components of these pressure waves are the most damaging, as our ancestors rarely encountered them and did not need to evolve a strategy to deal with them.
Running on dirt tracks or trails is almost the opposite. The rough surface and variability make for a broken rhythm, and the dirt surface absorbs much of the high-frequency component of the foot’s impact with the ground. This is what our Primate lineage evolved to run on, so it makes sense that we are optimized for these conditions.
WALKING ON STAIRS
Most stairs are not wide enough for all but the smallest feet to make a full connection. When going upstairs, this is not an issue because we can keep the foot in the Gait Line by just using the ball of the foot. Going downstairs if we maintained the Gait Line the ball of the foot would hang over the edge of the stair, which is hazardous. We therefore usually evert the feet in a “duck walk” pattern. Stairs are an excellent example of how our BUILT ENVIRONMENT compromises native biomechanics. The way to address this is to minimize walking down flights of stairs, and to contact the stair with the part of the ball of the foot behind the Big Toe, in essence walking downstairs on the balls of the feet. There is a reframe for the context of stairs here:
IN/OUT VS. UP/DOWN
This aspect is mentioned here primarily to bring attention to the issue, which in this writer’s understanding is an opportunity for further innovation. However, simply bringing awareness to the issue may help negate its negative repercussions.
Discussion of tactics and strategies to aid in training improved foot usage:
IMPROVING OUR FEET
An overview of foot structural and functional issues and means to optimize how we use our feet: