by Danny Dreyer, Founder of ChiRunning/ChiWalking, www.chirunning.com
It amazes me that we, as human beings, pay so little attention to the daily health of our feet. But, what amazes me even more is how little attention runners and walkers put into having healthy feet. It’s not like they’re a body part that gets seldom used. In fact, I would say that they are one of the most important parts of our body… right up there with the heart, lungs and brain.
Because they are literally, “where the rubber meets the road” our feet are one of the most common places where running and walking injuries happen. They are the farthest from our core and contain some of the smallest muscles in our ambulatory system. And, for these reasons they are some of the most overused muscles, and over-impacted bones and joints, in the human body.
So, when I talk about taking care of your feet, the best way to take care of those tootsies is to use them as little as possible… and everybody’s goal should be to never require more from all those tiny little parts than they are designed to provide.
What does that look like?
Here are 5 ways to gain that enlightened state of “Happy Feet,” as Steve Martin would say:
- Do everything in your power to learn how to reduce or eliminate pushing off with your toes. This means always running with your center (Dantien) falling slightly ahead of your feet and lifting feet and ankles to keep up with your forward fall. If you do this instead of pushing yourself forward with your feet and toes, you’ll be using gravity for propulsion… that’s what it’s there for. Picking up your feet instead of pushing off helps prevent (and cures) plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, calf pulls and bone spurs… not a bad trade-off.
- Be sure you’re rolling over all five of your metatarsal heads with every stride. During a “toe-off” you are momentarily supporting your entire body weight, mostly with your big toe. This is a major cause of metatarsal stress fractures, an overuse injury. Practice pointing your feet forward (not splaying) and you’ll distribute body- weight support to all five toes instead of just your big toe. Your feet will love you.
- Wear shoes that allow your feet to be feet… not feet living in some version of a prison cell. The toe box should be flexible and wide enough to not squeeze your toes together… I’m talkin’ roomy! Soles should have drop of 0mm-12mm and no more. They should be cushioned enough to fit your needs and breathable for those hot days. Never lace your shoes too tight or you’ll restrict the natural movement of your feet and ankles. Having poorly fitting shoes can not only hurt your feet, it can create the rest of your body’s movement to be unnatural and compromised.
- Go shoeless whenever you can. There’s nothing better for your feet than the freedom to roam unhindered. It stimulates many of the meridians running through your body and promotes good circulation and healthy energy flow to various organs in your body. Studies have shown that barefoot people smile more… just kidding.
- Work on the alignment of your feet and toes. A lot of us have misaligned feet and toes from spending too many years in constricted footwear. If your big toe bends in towards your other toes, it’s a deformity created by pointed- toe shoes. Your toes should be able to spread easily and radiate out from your heel in straight lines, like a fan. Check out the feet of these Amazonian Indians who’ve never worn shoes!
This is just the short list of ways to make your feet happy.
- Give yourself foot massages
- Soak them in an Epsom salt bath
- Roll them on a golf ball or tennis ball
- Do leg drains by laying on your back with your feet propped up on a wall
- Getting your toenails done
… and last but not least, walk barefoot in sand or across a grassy lawn, just for the pure pleasure of it.