While in the past foot care revolved mostly around preventing infections, modern living has presented us with an entirely new set of mechanical problems, related to the amount of time spent on hard flat surfaces.
Think about it: where except the salt flats and a frozen lake do we find flat surfaces in nature? Yet day in and day out, we live on floors, sidewalks, and streets. Carpeted or not, they are still flat. Any problems with the foot are compounded by unbroken repetition. This is especially true of the fallen arch – as muscles and ligaments stretch in the arch, the heel rolls inward, the toe points out, pressure spots develop on the foot, and perhaps worst of all, the knee becomes twisted, creating unusual wear leading to arthritis. And if one foot has a worse arch than the other, that leg can seem to drop in length, and the pelvis can become uneven, with resulting low back or even neck pain.
Our first answer is to acquire more supportive shoes. These are now readily available – we’ve seen inclusion of athletic shoe design in everyday oxfords. And for someone who spends significant time on their feet, especially on hard surfaces, an arch support may be a wise choice to protect the feet, knees, and low back. This is especially true if one arch is worse than the other – then the arch support is essential.
The only arch support that truly works is one made from an impression of the foot itself. Foot size and arch size can be very different. I recommend (except in extreme circumstances) a flexible support that doesn’t weaken the foot. Always use two. Furthermore, a chiropractor or trained individual should make sure that the arch support effectively corrects the pelvic misalignment. It is not enough to simply deal with the foot problem.
Typically, when someone gets good arch supports, their legs and back feel less tired at the end of the day.
If there are problems in the forefoot (bunions, metatarsal pain, hammer toes) a metatarsal support should be included. I advise trying this, and a generously toed shoe, prior to corrective surgery. Surgery often makes the toes look better, but they can lose function. This is critical with bunion surgery because it involves the big toe, which is an important weight-bearing joint. Believe it or not, toe deviation is mostly a problem for fitting shoes. Shoe manufacturers don’t make enough different shapes of shoes to accommodate our widely varying feet.
However, we can’t always wear shoes. Nor should we: the foot has the third largest sensory area in the brain, second only to the hands and lips. I have no evidence for this, but believe that forever insulating the feet from the world is a bad idea. Going barefoot occasionally or using moccasins allows the foot to develop and maintain its flexibility and sensitivity, and improve strength and balance. Feet learn to mold around offending objects. There’s a reason it feels good to pull shoes off at the end of a day.
What aren’t good are flip-flops, sloppy flats, worn slippers, and run over old shoes.
Interested in strengthening your arches and feet? Here’s a way of walking that will do that, and help spine alignment:
1. Notice that your feet, from the bottom, are shaped like 2 “C’s” facing each other.
2. When stepping, land first on the heel, roll along the outside edge of the foot, then push off with the big toe.
3. At first, this will feel awkward, even difficult to do indoors because this motion propels you forward, but as you get better at it, a shorter step becomes easier.
4. The result is a quieter, stronger gait in which you feel the muscles of the feet working. They may even tire out at first – this tells you you’re doing it right. You will develop a longer stride and more athletic appearance. You will also avoid stubbing your toes, because they will naturally aim forward.
5. This doesn’t work well with sloppy, cloppy shoes, but then, nothing really does.