The Feet and Chiropractic

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on May 23rd, 2013)

Most people do not think about their feet beyond, “Ew! Stinky!” or wanting to hide them away because of some blemish or callous. Well, this week we’re going to take some time to think about our feet in a little more detail than that. Our feet are extremely important to us. In fact, they are extremely important to our entire bodies.

Our feet are always providing either the stability we need to make other movements with the rest of our body or the mobility to respond to the changing ground as we walk. Each foot contains 26 different bones and even more joints. The function of these joints can have a dramatic effect on the rest of the structures of the body. The feet are like the foundation of a house. If the foundation is not strong then the rest of the house will bear the brunt of the damage.

The mobility of the foot is its most important feature. Unlike a house we are able to move around and so we need out foundation to be able to react and adapt to changing features of the ground beneath us. Even with sidewalks there are cracks and bumps and curbs. The joints of our feet should be able to move to provide support no matter what the ground is and the muscles of our feet should be able to provide the strength needed to maintain that support.

When we walk the joints and muscle of the feet are supposed to act in a specific way. We step forward onto our heel and roll along the bottom of the foot as we transfer our weight onto that leg. The weight is specifically running along the outside edge of the foot and curves under the balls of the foot and into the big toe as we push forward again. This only happens if all of the joints are moving properly and the muscles are strong.

If the muscles are weak then we get into a situation called a “Fallen Arch”. This is when the biggest arch of the foot, the “Medial Longitudinal Arch” (the inside edge of the foot), flattens to some degree changing the angles of other joints of the foot and rolling the entire foot inward. This puts a lot of strain on the ligaments of the foot and the joints of the ankle.

There are two other major arches in the feet called the “Lateral Longitudinal Arch” (the outside edge of the foot), which is only a very slight curve, and the “Transverse (or Transversal depending on the source) Arch” which runs between the two Longitudinal ones. Both of these arches are able to fall as well but are less common and cause less difficulty when they do.

On the other end of the spectrum, we can also experience “High Arches” which occurs when the joints are stiff and not as mobile as the need to be. This limits the amount the foot is able to roll during the transition of our weight while walking and causes many difficulties.

No matter what the cause, a foot that cannot respond to the changes placed upon it will transfer the responsibility of the appropriate response up to the ankles, which pass it to the knees, which pass it up the hip, and the hips to the low back, and so on and up it goes. So your headaches may actually be related to improper foot mechanics. Kind of blows the mind, doesn’t it.

Well, this begs the question of what is doing this to us. First and foremost, it is our shoes. The average shoe is designed to cushion the foot so that is doesn’t need to respond to the changes in the ground. Well, what happens to a muscle that is not used? It becomes weak and flabby, then when our shoes wear out or we are not wearing our shoes at all the muscles of our feet cannot sustain the stability the foot should be providing. Also, High Heeled shoes are absolutely killing your foot. The hold the foot in and change all the angles and pressures placed upon it. So it cannot move and so becomes stiff as well as squishing the transverse arch around and causing trouble. The second thing is our sidewalks. We have flattened our world to make it easier on ourselves but in actuality we have taken away the aspect of our world that keeps our feet exercised, healthy, and strong. Without the daily ups and downs of unlevel ground the muscles in our feet get weak and flabby and so cannot give the support needed when called upon.

So how do you fix this? Chiropractic, as it is with all joint and muscle problems, is an excellent way to treat foot problems from bunions to fallen arches to plantar fasciitis. But even if we get the joints moving again and the muscles nice and strong again they will need upkeep. Try walking around without your shoes while you are at home or in the park. This will help to give those little muscles of the feet the exercise they need to stay strong.

Orthotics can be used to help very severe cases and are available from most Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, or Chiropodist clinics but they are a crutch that should not be relied upon for a long period of time. Orthotics will help hold the foot in place and relieve symptoms of improper foot mechanics but they too will eventually make the feet week. So they should only be used while rehabilitating the feet for better function.

I encourage you to think about your feet more and remember how important they are in your life. Treat them well and they will do the same for you.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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