Know where you stand! On feet and their importance
One of the main takes from any philosophical tradition out there is to become aware of ‘where you stand.’ Past entries in our blog have paid attention to the metaphorical take of this expression, but on today’s post we want to be a bit more ‘literal’ and devote some time to considering feet and their importance.
As a former 400-meter runner, I can tell you one thing for sure: feet are fundamental; so much so that it might be even healthy to develop a bit of a ‘foot fetish.’ Ok, perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated, but you get what I mean!
It took me my first 23 years and the missed possibility of a spot in the Beijing Olympics of 2008 to fully realize how important feet can be. I had to go through a stress fracture in three of my right foot bones at the worst time possible to learn to love my feet. And if the truth be told, still nowadays, when I do a better job at tending to them and worry about my feet more than before, I mostly pay attention to them when a problem has (re)appeared. After a few weeks of care go by, once the pain has dissipated, so does my ambition to give them the love they deserve and need.
And I know why. I mean, who really thinks much about feet? (I will refrain here from writing the foot fetish joke again). The truth is that we rarely think about them, but our feet are incredibly complex structures. If you look at them from a biomechanical and physiological perspective, each foot is made up of 26 bones, which may not seem like much at the beginning, but changes once you realize this is roughly one quarter of all our body’s bones! These bones are an essential part of 33 different joints, connected to hundreds of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. All of which are necessary to allow for an upright position, proper posture, and locomotion.
When the entire foot system works smoothly, feet absorb impact energy during walking or running, store it, and release it into the next step; but any misalignment will create leverage, and this same energy will be passed on to the knee or further up, which, aside of being very energy-consuming, might trigger injury. Again, this may not seem so fundamental at first, but once you consider that these two precious connection points to the earth allow you to walk an average of 7,500 steps daily, and even more and with an even higher impact if you’re a professional runner, the dimensions of any misalignment gain in proportion.
This type of preoccupation with feet is not exclusive of either Olympic athletes such as me or of foot fetishists. Sorry, easy joke again! Eastern Medical traditions, and acupuncture to be more precise, have paid great attention to feet and their meridians for centuries, devising an entire system and science –reflexology– meant to look after their health and, through them, to that of other parts of our being.
So, perhaps because I’m a yoga teacher now, or because I’m making of long-distance running my new passion, the question is that I thought I would share a tip or two on how to proper care for your feet, so you may not have to go through the same mistakes I made:
Rule 1: You’re not an eagle, so... mind your toenails!
I struggled with ingrown toenails for years. Not only did that look horrible, but it also hurt with every step I made, particularly when wearing tight spikes. Pain in your feet causes you to subconsciously change your running/walking style, leaving you mostly out of balance, which is always followed by injury. So the tip here is pretty commonsense: cut them, properly! And if they are already not looking their best, be gracious to your mighty, and go get a pedicure. It will take you places!
Rule 2: Move ‘em toes!
For me personally, toe mobility is an issue. Hallux on the big toe joint is one of the most common things, as awkward as this may seem. I still remember when some 15 years back a physio told us to watch out for our right foot big toe joint. I thought, what? I’m barely a teenager! But oh how right he was. Arthrosis there is a very common injury for 400m runners because of the pressure applied when running through the bend. So the real tip here is, first of all, listen to your elders, and second of all keep the toe-joints as mobile as possible; otherwise, a stiff joint in a toe can lead to the plantar fasciitis, later causing problems with the heel and the achilles, which is absolutely no fun at all.
Rule 3: Cracking jokes is cool, cracked skin on your feet is not!
So to prevent your feet from looking like Benjamin Button, which will make them blister-prone, make regular use of both scrub and moisturizer. You can make a smart choice and invest some money into specific ones for the feet. These work best when used right after the shower.
Rule 4: Fascia and trigger point massage
Self-massaging your feet can do wonders, though there are plenty of tools for you to roll your feet over and relax the tension. I personally enjoy most massaging the plantar fascia, something I do with the help of either a Blackroll Ball or a TMX Trigger, before or after the workout. But something as simple as a hot bath after the workout to relax the tissue and relieve soreness can also be great prep before you proceed with the massage.
Rule 5: Getting cold feet? It’s not always a bad thing!
In my case, my feet have been through more than most. Too many kilometers, in max. sprints, and now long runs, which have taken their toll on the hips, knees, ankles and feet joints. So my ritual after a running session, and particularly after long runs or interval training, consists on placing ice packs on my feet and achilles to sooth it all.
Rule 6: Strong feet, clean apartment!
Ever tried picking dirty socks with your toes or throwing paper balls at the paper basket with them? Me neither… Jokes aside, strong feet are amazing to have. A strong foot can better absorb the impact of its contact with any surface and re-apply this same energy into the next step. This not only reduces the force that will be passed on upwards into higher joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, but also significantly reduces the rate of fatigue, the risk of injury, and aids recovery. So if you have a chance, play ‘crane-mobile’ with your toes and a pair of socks or walk barefoot over the grass. But if you do the latter, don’t overdo it. Remember rule 3!