When it comes to our feet, most of us don’t really pay any attention until there’s a problem. But when we’re looking to develop healthy movement and posture, our feet are a huge piece of the puzzle. They connect us to the earth and determine every step we take—literally. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at our feet and how they can provide a supportive foundation for us as we move through the world.
When our feet are working well, they provide a base for stable movement, absorb shock, and propel us forward with each step that we take. A healthy foot can carry us through each day with ease and efficiency, while an unstable or rigid one can lead to pain or even immobility. So how can we make sure that our feet are providing us with the support that we need?
First, let’s take a moment to establish what it is exactly that our feet do. For most of us, it’s not something we think about—obviously, we use them to walk or run, but few of us are really mindful of the process our feet undergo with each and every step. Most simply, this process can be broken down into two main parts: pronation and supination.
In a healthy step, the heel hits the ground, the leg rotates inward, and the foot flattens. This flattening of the foot is called pronation. During pronation, the joints in the foot loosen, the foot fans out, and the arch drops slightly. This process allows the foot to absorb shock as we walk.
As we continue along in our step, the heel lifts, and our weight moves toward the outer edge of the foot, allowing the joints in the foot to lock. This is called supination, and it helps us to push off of the ground and propel forward with each step.
When every part of this process is functioning well, we are able to walk with confidence. However, too much or too little pronation can contribute to pain and dysfunction in the feet and through our whole body.
With overpronation, the foot flattens too much. This increases stress on the foot and lower leg and can lead to soft tissue injuries such as plantar fasciitis and tendonitis. On the other hand, someone with an overly rigid foot (sometimes called a “supinator”) tends to underpronate. Too much rigidity means that the foot is unable to properly absorb shock with each step. Stress is then passed up to the joints of the lower leg and the rest of the body. And, like overpronation, this can lead to pain.
So what should you do if you are suffering from foot pain? First, take a look at your shoes. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all approach to footwear. The shoes that provide the best kind of support for you will depend upon a number of factors: the amount your feet pronate, the relative flexibility or rigidity of your foot, and the strength of the foot. Regularly wearing shoes that are not right for your feet can cause pain and instability.
If you are not experiencing any significant pain from everyday walking, a shoe with a moderate amount of support should be sufficient. Look for a molded footbed that feels comfortable along your arch while still allowing your feet to move flexibly with each step. Avoid the urge to buy highly supportive or rigid shoes unless you’re sure you need them—too much support can actually lead to weakness in the foot because the muscles are underworked.
For some, however, making changes in your shoe wear may not relieve your foot pain. If so, you may benefit from reaching out to a physical therapist for assessment. Your physical therapist will consider a number of factors when determining the best solution for you, such as your foot type, your activity level, your gait pattern, the strength and flexibility of your feet, and the way these all work in combination with other parts of your body. In certain cases, orthotics may be recommended for extra support. These can often function as a temporary solution: as the foot gets stronger and more flexible, you may find that they are no longer needed.
We hope that this helps you to appreciate how much our feet do for us. If you have any questions about how to make sure you’re getting the most out of each step, please let us know. We’re here to help you put your best foot forward!