The Gimpy Feet Guide to Ungimping

(Yeah, I know, I’m posty today. Trying to clear out some links that have been sitting around for a while, that require more discussion than can profitably be done in a linkdump post.)

Someone a while back asked what I was doing about the problem of collapsing arches in my feet. Since most of my foot/ankle problems are interrelated (surprise!), I figured it was worth doing one collated post on all my physical therapy — with bonus link about barefoot running.

This site shows pictures of most of the PT. I’m doing all four exercises in the “resistance band” group on that page, plus two others: with cotton balls between my toes, I’m squeezing the toes together, and I’m also doing the one where you put your foot on a towel and gradually scrunch the fabric up with your toes. Three sets of 15, each day. So far I’ve graduated up two resistance bands; when I can do four sets of 15 with the next (and strongest) band, I’ll probably call it quits with that stuff.

I’m also doing three other exercises, more newly-added to my repertoire. First, I’m standing on one foot. No, really. Aside from the atrophy caused by the surgical recovery, I also had a pre-existing weakness in my tibialis posterior, which is a muscle that runs down the inside of your ankle and splays across the sole of your foot. It’s one of the muscles closely involved in arch support (another being the tibialis anterior, on the outside of the joint), and it plays a big role in balancing. When I try to stand on one foot for any real length of time, I can feel it crapping out on me, causing my ankle to roll inward, with predictable consequences for my balance. So this exercise is remarkably tiring, at least for one tiny part of my leg. The other two are lunges (of the athletic, not the fencing, sort) and one-foot squats, which I can’t really do worth a damn. I’m supposed to stand on one foot and squat down as low as I can (including lowering my back and sticking my butt out; this isn’t a plié), while keeping my heel on the ground. Between the weakness of that one muscle and my possibly structural inability to dorsiflex very far, this turns out to be a carnival of wobbling on my part.

So if you have arch problems, you want to do the inversion and eversion exercises, the ones where you’re moving your foot from side to side against resistance. And it turns out that helps a lot for balance, too: in karate last night, I discovered that when I do one of the rapid 180-degree turns many of the kata include, I’m now landing in zenkutsu-dachi on the far side with MUCH less instability than I used to. I never thought to connect that with the arch issues, but it seems to be related.

Also — on the topic of arch problems — you might want to read up on barefoot running. This is something I only recently encountered, and I’m not a runner myself, so I don’t have much first-hand knowledge on the subject. But there’s a chapter in the book Born to Run that makes a convincing argument for how our highly-engineered running shoes have actually contributed to foot problems, rather than reducing them. And the reasons seem like common sense: the shoe, by stiffening and cushioning the foot, radically changes the mechanics of how we run. I had a deeply suspicious reaction when my primary care doctor told me the solution to my arch problems was putting more support in my shoes; wouldn’t that just further weaken my feet? (You can imagine what my PT said when I asked her.) There’s at least some evidence that running barefoot, or in minimal shoes, with a forefoot or midfoot strike, will actually strengthen your arches by — here’s a wacky idea — using them as evolution intended.

I’m not likely to take up running any time soon, but for those of you who do it, you might want to investigate some of the minimal-shoe options out there.

And now, having dealt with some of the crap cluttering up my browser, I’m off to be productive on a different front. Namely, folding laundry.

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