As summer approaches I often teach a series of classes dedicated to “unloved body parts” as we prepare to peel off extra layers and get ready for the holiday season. For many, feet fall into this category, yet as the foundation of our bodies they are a really important part of our natural balance-keeping systems.

Humans have a unique foot shape that allows us to walk, run, climb and do many other activities. Although hands have a similar structure, feet, because they bear more weight, are stronger and less mobile.

The bones of the foot are organised in rows, named tarsal bones, metatarsal bones and phalanges. These make up the toes and blade of the foot. The largest bone of the foot is the heel (calcaneus), it slopes up to meet the tarsal bones, which point downward along with the remaining bones of the foot.

Below these bones are the arches of the foot which make walking easier and reduce the load on the body. These arches (medial, lateral and longitudinal) are formed by the angles of the bones and strengthened by the tendons that connect the muscles, and the ligaments that connect the bones.

Other bones of the foot create the ankle, connecting it to the rest of the body.

It is important to realise that many of the muscles that affect larger foot movements are located in the lower leg, but the foot itself can perform specific articulations that help maintain balance. Therefore shoes that hinder the position and function of the feet can lead to misalignment and disturb the body’s natural weight balance.

Most people don’t think about how their foot hits the ground as they walk or run. After all, why would you, it feels automatic and you do this thousands of times each day. However, how you step does matter, especially if you participate in sports that involve running. Only when problems occur do we begin to pay attention. I’m not going to discuss minor problems like athlete’s foot, smelly feet or warts in this blog, but do ask me about them next time you are in the studio if any of these are a concern.

Understanding Pronation and Supination

Pronation and Supination are normal parts of the gait cycle as you walk or run. Pronation occurs when the foot naturally rolls inwards as you transfer weight from your heel to your forefoot (flattening of your feet). This is important and helps provide shock absorption at the foot. Supination is the opposite and occurs when your foot rolls out during the gait cycle (placing weight on the outside of your foot and raising the arch). Supination is important because it allows the foot to form a rigid structure for propulsion. Problems occur when there is excessive movement combined with incorrect timing leading to an uneven gait.

Over pronation is more common and means your foot rolls inward too much as you move. If you over pronate the outer edge of your heel hits the ground first, then your foot rolls inward onto the arch. This leads to over flattening of your feet, and causes an exaggerated internal rotation of the lower leg, knee and thigh. This in turn leads to strains on your muscles, tendons and ligaments of your foot, and lower leg, particularly the knee.

Over supination means your foot doesn’t roll inwards enough, putting strain on your ankle. Often this is inherited, or caused by structural problems in the foot , such as high arches or differences in leg length. However, ankle instability, incorrect footwear and body misalignment can also be a factor.

Common Over Supination Problems include:

Pronation and Supination are not the whole story – Dorsiflexion and Plantarflexion also matter.Dorsiflexion describes the bending backwards of the foot, or put another way the toes lifting up and away from the ground towards the ankle. Plantarflexion is the opposite movement when the foot points away from the leg, or pointing the toes. For more on this read my blog  – “Ankle Stability, Crucial to Body Positioning and Injury Prevention”

What Can you do?

Exercises – take your shoes off for these exercises

Top Tips for Functional Feet

  1. Shoes restrict full foot function; set your feet free this summer and walk barefoot whenever possible – ditching your slippers at home is a great way to start. Walk barefoot outdoors especially on uneven surfaces to really feel your feet – in grass, on sand and even shingle. Avoid hard surfaces like concrete and tarmac.
  2. Warm up calves and ankles before exercising.
  3. Use a foam roller to release hamstrings, adductors, quads and the front/back of your calves.
  4. Stretch tight muscles daily.
  5. Roll a spiky ball under the soles of your feet, applying mild pressure. Don’t forget the aches.
  6. Soak feet in MP Face/Body Salt to reduce fluid retention in feet and ankles.
  7. Correct poor posture and walking/running technique – try to land softly on your feet, aiming to make contact with the ground close to your mid foot rather than the heel. Shorten your stride if necessary to enable you to roll through your feet.
  8. Join my outdoor class to understand and improve your gait and load transfer.
  9. Improve the range of movement in your joints, particularly spine, hips, knees and ankles.
  10. Strengthen your  core, inner thighs and pelvic floor.