Due to the number of questions I've received since my last blog post about foot issues and Pilates, I will delve more deeply into feet in this post and look at why it's so important to maintain strong, flexible feet, especially as we age. I'll explain why good foot health is essential not only for our feet but for everything above them in our bodies. I'll also share some simple but effective foot exercises you can start doing straight away and incorporate easily into your daily life.
Joseph Pilates instinctively knew that our feet were a neglected part of our bodies that we needed to incorporate into our exercise sessions. Our feet require as much care and attention as the rest of our bodies so he created specific pieces of small equipment to improve their strength and alignment and most of his exercises include a foot connection. Feet are complex structures and can be rigid for weight-bearing activities but can also be flexible to adapt to walking on uneven surfaces. They play a very important role in proprioception - the ability to know where and how our body is oriented in space. We receive a lot of information through our feet so if you wear thick-soled shoes or orthotics all the time you are de-sensitising your feet and compromising your proprioception. This leads to poor balance, clumsiness and unfortunately a greater risk of falling or injuring yourself. The good news is this can all be avoided by incorporating foot exercises into your exercise regime.
New clients who are dealing with back pain are usually very surprised when I ask them to use a small ball to massage the soles of their feet and in particular the arch of each foot early on in their Pilates training. They are even more surprised when they see just how tender and tight the arches of their feet actually are. Many of them have asked how I could have possibly known they would have had tight arches as their back is the issue, not their feet. Our feet really are our foundation and fascia, a type of connective tissue that is found throughout our bodies is the anatomical explanation for why everything really is connected. By releasing tight fascia in the sole of the foot, it releases along the whole fascial line which is extremely beneficial for helping to release the fascia around the lower back for example. Fascia is one of our richest sensory organs so when this is locked up it affects our proprioception, posture and our ability to move efficiently and ultimately causes pain. One of the simplest but effective ways of maintaining fascial health is through the feet. Good foot health is beneficial for the feet and ankles but also the knees, hips, spine, shoulders and neck too. Many preventable conditions can be overcome by maintaining strong healthy feet. Working to re-align and strengthen the feet can have an effect on knee, hip or back pain for example. So let's look at some practical ways to achieve this.
If you have a foot condition check with your medical practitioner before doing these exercises. Watch my video above for a visual of the bones of the foot and the plantar fascia. Research has shown the greater your understanding of the internal structures of your body, the easier it is for you to recover and heal from injury.
Small Ball Foot Massage - This is the same exercise I mentioned above that I give to people with back pain. You need a small ball about the size of a child's high bounce ball that you can purchase from a discount store. It's a size larger than a golf ball. In my experience, fascia doesn't respond well to overstimulation or digging in too harshly with the ball. It can cause it to tighten up further in response. Either sit close to the edge of a chair or stand next to a wall with one hand on the wall for support. Place the ball under the sole of your foot and gently press the ball into the floor as you slowly roll it back and forth from your heel to your toes. Look for any sore spots and gradually loosen them up with the ball. Then focus on the arch and tilt your foot slightly inwards to really get in there. If it's tender don't try to do loosen it too much at once. It needs to be a very gradual release over time. Spend about 30 - 40 secs on one foot and then place it down on the floor and mentally compare the 2 sides. See if the foot you have massaged feels different from the other one. Repeat the massage on the other side and then compare them again. Do this every second day and aim to gradually eliminate the sore spots.
This exercise is good for everyone but particularly beneficial if you have plantar fasciitis. It works the intrinsic foot muscles, the muscles that begin and end in the foot. I've seen many clients overcome this debilitating condition by practicing this exercise 3 times a day for 4 - 6 weeks. Lie in the position pictured above or alternatively close to the edge of a chair, feet flat on the floor, under your knee joints. Imagine you have a suction cap under the arch of each foot. Lift and spread your toes. As you lower your toes, draw up from the arch of your foot or suction cap and use your toes to move your foot slightly upwards on the wall or forwards on the floor. Keep the awareness of the muscles in the arch helping to move your foot upward/forward more than your toes. Do this 5 or 6 times and you will have gradually moved forward on the floor or higher on the wall. Return to the starting position and repeat again and complete about 5 sets. Aim to feel the muscles in the arch activating, but this can take time. While the toes are assisting you, keep focusing on drawing up from the arch.
Fabulous Feet is a foot workout and one of the most popular videos on JS Mind Body Pilates, my online Pilates studio. Amazing Ankles & Feet is another popular one and the majority of my whole body workouts include foot exercises withn the workout. If you would like to access the videos to further strengthen your feet and whole body, take the free 10 day trial now. Alternatively, email me at [email protected] if you have any questions or need more information about foot issues or getting started with Pilates. It's been my pleasure to assist so many people to experience life-changing results with Pilates and It would be my pleasure to assist you on your Pilates journey too!
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