Orthotics or not=> Our limiting foot beliefs are hurting us

 “If we have been bamboozled long enough we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge- even to ourselves- that we’ve been so credulous. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles arise.” ~ Carl Sagan (Astrophysicist)

Our highly specialized, homo sapiens, feet have been around for over 120 000 years, in addition to evolving hundreds of thousands of years before that! The many intricacies of the foot are still beyond the scope of science; yet, we are tricked into believing “one brand of shoe” or “a pair of orthotics” can fix our feet. Really?

ORTHOTICS

Orthotics= Artificial support

When you think of artificial what comes to mind? Artificial sweetener, artificial colour, artificial flavour, artificial intelligence, artificial personality. The likelihood of artificial having a positive connotation is doubtful.

I HAVE to wear orthotics because:

  • My feet are flat
  • I have high arches
  • I’m genetically flawed
  • I always get injured
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Fat pad syndrome
  • My parents, grandparents and great grandparents had them

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Taking my shoes for a walk

Unshod studies

Research on European, Indian and Asian adults who had never worn shoes in their lifetime all showed fan shaped feet with variations in arch height. Flat feet, middle arch or high arched unshod adults were all asymptomatic. That means no foot problems.

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Most people in their lifetime will never even come close to moving their feet in 860,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different ways {Katy Bowman, Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief}. Yes, that’s all possible foot ‘formations’.

Our feet have 100,000 to 200,000 receptors each that sense our environment as we stand, walk, run, skip and jump our way through the day. However, if we are shod our receptors (information coders) cannot transmit vital feedback to the brain in order for the brain to decide how to move our body, our feet, appropriately. For example, how often have you sprained your ankle? I bet it was in a shoe!

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Enough about the FEET!

Well, foot health is 100% indicative of whole body health. How are you knees, hips, pelvis, back, shoulders? How’s your cardiovascular health or your immune system functioning? How are you? Think about that for a bit.

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Do your jeans fit the environment? Or, does your environment fit the jeans? Does the environment matter? Do your jeans matter? Yes! Both matter AND the environment far outweighs your genes, unless they are skinny jeans then you win (or lose because you’re cutting off input to your feet instantly!). Yes, in the excellent picture I drew I wrote jeans for ‘genes’, just for fun.

Epigenetics, how the environment influences if, how and when your genes may be expressed, is a hot topic today. Sometimes certain genes will be turned off your entire life while others will be turned on, like when you wore those skinny jeans! If you didn’t get that, it’s okay. I am bad at jokes!

My dad, and all my dad’s family have osteoarthritis in the big toe (hallux). My brother has it and I have it too. Did I get it because of my dad? No! The environment-> cushy, heeled shoes with orthotics, tight calves, too much sitting, poor skeletal alignment, lack of proper movement. I absolutely believe if I knew then what I know now I would have never acquired osteoarthritis in the first place, 15 years ago. Sure, I might have a slightly higher tendency to acquire osteoarthritis than you… but, without those skinny jeans, I’d be fine! I’m done with the skinny jeans joking. 

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Are you asking me to stop wearing orthotics or go barefoot?! No, I’m asking you to do more work on your feet and think more of a whole body approach to your health. Top 10 things to do for better foot/overall body health.

1. The first thing you need to do is make sure ALL of your shoes (home, work, sport, dress) fit properly. Trace your feet and cut it out. See if that paper fits in ALL your shoes without coming up on the sides, the front or the back. If it does, give those shoes away. NO exceptions. Period.

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2. Your toes are often overlooked. If you can’t interlace your fingers inside your toes there’s dysfunction. Do as much as you can now with slow ankle rotations. It doesn’t matter if only a bit of your fingers are in between. Slowly increase movement over time. You can also buy correct toes or happy feet [I am not a distributor if you are wondering]. Note: Correct toes can be worn ALL day long and adjusted to your toes. Happy Feet are usually just worn at home for a little while.  

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3. Your calves have been adaptively shortened over time. It doesn’t matter if you wear orthotics or not, have shoes or not. I would 100% recommend you do calf stretches several times a day because your calves do not have their full natural functional capacity. AND calf tension plays an direct role in foot and toe tension. While standing, place the ball of your foot on a rolled up towel or a half dome (DON’T press your foot into the towel) to stretch your calf. Keep your ribs down, your hips in line, relax your shoulders and the front of your quads. [BUT my FEET hurt barefoot! No problem. Lie on your back on the ground, take a towel, wrap around the ball of your foot and slowly straighten your leg (or keep it bent) pulling towel (toes) towards your head. You ought to get that calf/back of knee/hamstring stretch]. The calf stretch is the #1 corrective exercise in Restorative Exercise, under the umbrella of Nutritious Movement. It can change your body!

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4. The top of your feet and your shins have been taking a beating… you have noooo idea. Now, if you are a dancer then forget this one, it’ll be too easy for you! But, everyone else do the top of the toe/foot stretch! Make sure you are plumb line (i.e. not leaning forward) and take a SMALL step back while placing the top of your foot on the ground… gently at first and then with 50% of your weight. Over time move your foot back a bit more. [But, I LOSE my balance! No problem. Sit down and point your toes with your hands (don’t point your toes with your toes!) It’s a passive exercise. OR sit on a chair with butt cheek slightly off so you can bring that one leg back and place the top of your foot on the ground. This is less pressure and you are not on your feet!].

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5. Grab some balls! Yoga Tune Up Therapy balls to be exact!!! I used to have tennis balls lying around everywhere but now all I have is YTU balls. They are the only balls specifically designed for muscle and fascia. Honestly, they are brilliant! Roll on your feet, calves, shins, hamstrings, butt, back, shoulders, neck, everywhere!

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6. When you sit [hours on end] do you sit on your ischial tuberosities or on your tailbone? Sit on your “sit bones/ ischial tuberosity” not on your coccyx! Nerves run down your spine into your feet! Don’t CUT the flow off! And, think about sitting beside your furniture while at home. It’s healthier!

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7. Most people that have “bad” feet are not so great at squatting. Start by squatting everyday on the toilet! It’s a DAILY dose of I love you body! If you can’t do it… start with one book and slowly add more books to the mix. Ankle dorsiflexion, knee flexion and hip flexion are vital to your whole body and foot health!

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8. Be uncomfortable! If your feet are weak, so are many other parts of your body. You have got to go beyond comfort to get to health. YES, our “comfortable” lives are impairing our bodies. Go barefoot several times a day (even if it’s only for one minute at a time), go for walks on rocks (even if you can only stand there for 30 seconds), sit on the floor more often, lie down 15 minutes on the floor before going to bed to have a different kind of ‘loading’ on your body, get textured mats [floor mat, bath mat, tub mat, kitchen mat] at home to use on your feet, step on objects purposefully to gain more proprioception, crawl, move! Pick up marbles or objects with your feet! Do the alphabet with your feet as you walk around your house OR as you watch TV. Be uncomfortable! It’s the only way you know you are changing.

9. Find your foot playground! Yolande and I are taking in the beauty of this PARADISE before moving for two hours. Honestly, this was the BEST barefoot WHOLE body workout I have ever done. My feet, legs and all my body were shaking after moving around, crawling, jumping, playing.

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10. Are your feet MORE sore when you wake up in the morning? Your body position while sleeping is fundamental to your blood circulation and electrical flow. If you can, sleep on your back with a towel under your pelvis (at least for a bit). Place a towel just below your iliac crest (just below your low back. FEEL the bony pelvis and go below that). Now, touch your crotch and the front of your pelvis (either side). You can see I have a LEVEL. You don’t need one. BUT, I can almost guarantee anything you THINK is ‘straight’ is actually in posterior tilt, meaning your crotch is higher than your pelvis. Why does this matter? Innervation to your feet needs to happen 24/7! You will also find your calves and hamstrings aren’t so darn tight when you wake up :)

Bonus: Work on sitting down and standing up without using ANY body parts except your feet!

I just want people to understand if they take away their foot health, they are reducing their bodies function by 25%. Is working 75% of your body good enough for you?

 

As a side note: I had orthotics for 16 years. Over time I became FED up, I just quit! Quit believing that I HAD to wear them all the time, that I needed them for life and that I couldn’t do what I wanted without them. I was just too young (early 30’s) to rely on orthotics to “fix” me.

I s-l-o-w-l-y weened over the course of 2 years. I cried many many times because doing barefoot work was painful, tiring and taxing on my whole body. There was NOTHING easy about the process and it was 100% uncomfortable. AND, it was the best thing for me! 

To add, it took another 7 years to truly understand the implications of “comfort” shoes and heeled shoes (that includes ALL shoes~ running, dress, home, slippers, sandals, etc). 

All my shoes are now flat and I will never go back. 

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Kristin Marvin is a Performance Recovery Specialist, helping athletes achieve their best through proper recovery. As a former Canadian team runner she had her fair share of foot problems: plantar fasciitis, shin splints, achilles tendonitis, hip issues and massive back pain. Sharing her knowledge with athletes is her #1 objective, so others don’t have to suffer through pain, injury and setback.  

Scenario of an elite runner

1990: Plantar fasciitis (4 months)
Prescribed orthotics.
1991: Shin splints
1993: Plantar fasciitis (16 months)
Different orthotics
1995: Severe back pain (2 months)
1996: Switched sports
[ankle sprains galore in between the years]
1999: Knee pain
2001: Running again
2001: Stress fracture
2002: Beginnings of hallux limitus
2003: Massive toe pain
Prescibed different orthotics and a rigid foot pad.
2006: I have had enough!
I made the executive decision to start to mobilize and stabilize my feet.
It took me TWO years to have the strength and flexibility to do whatever it is I wanted with my feet. TWO YEARS. Two years to be able to walk barefoot without pain. And yes, it was worth every single solitary second. You know why??? Because EVERY single injury/pain that I had previously what DIRECTLY related to my feet. I know a LOT about the feet and how they can transform your entire body!!!!! I am not saying you have to get rid of your orthotics. I am saying you need to take care of your feet to take care of your ankles, knees, hips, low back and everything really.
You might say to yourself, I have nothing wrong with my feet why should I go. Trust me, your feet aren’t perfect because you are actually reading this post. AND the last place on your body you want to hurt is your feet. They affect every single cell uptown… meaning your entire body! OMGoodness you might say. Yes, it is OMGoodness.

Osteoarthritis in athletes

1. It is NOT genetic.

2. You’re at a higher risk if you’ve been injured around the joints.

3. Body weight (heavy) does not help.

4. Positions you hold on a daily basis make a difference (aka too much sitting).

5. Your skeletal alignment is SO IMPORTANT. 

6. Positive heeled shoes are unhealthy.

If you have osteoarthritis in a certain area, the number 1 rule is:
” DON’T STOP MOVING in that area!!! The longer you stay in a FIXED position (i.e. orthotics, braces, plates) , the worse that area will become.

For example: In big toe osteoarthritis, if you limit your foot and toe movements (fix your toe in place and wear orthotics) then your whole body movement and whole body alignment will get WORSE. Your gait will get worse and everything uptown will get worse (knees, hips, back, shoulders, etc).

PLEASE be mindful of whole body!!!

ORTHOTICS GONE WILD

The orthotic industry came to prominence after WWI, WWII and the onset of the 1950’s polio epidemic. It was to help wounded soldiers and those stricken with polio. Later, orthotics were developed for diabetics, patients recovering from burns or broken bones, people with severe arthritis or neuromuscular disorders, MS, CP, spina bifida, brain injury, kids with scoliosis, athletes recovering from surgery or injury, and many other disorders.

Fast forward to 2014: People wear orthotics today for their high arches, collapsed arches, foot cramps, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, hip issues, knee problems, back pain, tendonitis, heel pain, leg length discrepancy, arch pain, calf tension, and the list is endless. This is vastly different from its original usage. There is NO comparison.

Do you have orthotics?

Why did you get them in the first place?

Today’s definition of orthotics:  a device designed to restore your natural foot function. Orthotics re-align the foot and ankle bones to their neutral position, thereby restoring your natural foot function.

What? Read that again. Seriously! Read the above definition again slowly.

Okay. Did you actually read it again or are you just trying to get through this #@^* blog post?

Well, I have something special for you today. For today and today only:

I’m going to give you gloves that restore your natural hand function. The wrist-o-hand glove will re-align your hand and wrist bones to their neutral position, thereby restoring your natural hand function. You will be able to do anything with your hands. Did I say aNyThInG?

Do you believe me?

Just wait! I have a bonus offer:

I’m going to give you underwear that restore your natural pelvic floor function. Pelflundies re-align your femur, your pelvis and your sacrum to their neutral positions, thereby restoring your natural pelvic floor function. Going to the toilet will now be a breeze without worrying about pissing on the floor while walking to work or working out. You will experience a wonderful and loving menstrual flow (woman only, obviously). You will say no to pelvic organ prolapse and yes to strong and healthy tissues. No more SI joint problems or sciatica! To top it off, the sex will be “O” so magnificent!

Do you believe me now?

I think you get my point. Here’s the thing: FEET need to be healthy for the entire body to be healthy. Humans have not studied the body enough to know the true intricacies of the foot itself. In regards to your biomechanics, of your actual gait? Here is a great quote from William A. Rossi D.P.M:

“Gait is the single most complex motor function of the human body. So complex, in fact, that it is the only motor function for which a definition or standard of “normal” does not exist. It involves half of the body’s 650 muscles and 200 bones, along with a large share of the joints and ligaments. And despite all the serious gait studies that have been done since Hippocrates to the present, all the mysteries of human gait have yet to be revealed.” (p. 50)

Notice how he uses the term normal, not natural. The only natural that can be found when discussing feet is when they are bare. It is that simple. If it hurts you to go barefoot. I get it! I wore orthotics from 1990-2008. I went through about 10 pairs. To add to that, I had my positive heel shoes at my bedside every single day. Upon waking (to go pee in the middle of the night or getting up to go to work) I would immediately put my feet into those shoes. Going barefoot was painful! I just couldn’t do it. At the same time, I became fed up with everything. I couldn’t understand why I truly needed orthotics in the first place (shin splints, plantar fasciitis, high arches). For me this was just not a good enough excuse to wear something foreign to my body. I slowly weaned off the orthotics working hard every single day, starting with 30 seconds! After 2 looooong years with more mobility and stability daily I threw my orthotics out.

No! I am not telling you to get rid of your orthotics. No! I’m not saying orthotics are bad. Some people need them! Regardless if we wear orthotics or not we need to take responsibility of our feet. Bracing them in shoes or orthotics will not fix them. It is imperative to increase circulation through self-massage with a pair of hands, a ball or a small roller. It is also crucial to create more stability through movement barefoot [BE CAREFUL! You don’t have to do any weight bearing exercises at first]. Every single muscle and bone in your body is meant to move on its own, naturally!

Have you recently suffered from any aches or pains in your body? It just might be because your feet need some TLC! Love your footsies and your entire body will love you back.

Where did I get that awesome quote? Here: Rossi, William A., D.P.M. Why shoes make “normal” gait impossible. Podiatry Management, p.50-61, March 1999.