I enjoy the Photo a Day challenge as it makes me think creatively, and gets my mind working in interesting ways (I hope).   One of the prompts in September 2018 was “Toes” and this got me thinking about the often over looked and unloved things that are our feet.  There were quite a few group members (PaDsters) who said that they “have a thing” about toes and feet and wouldn’t post exposed toes (cue lots of photos of shoes).

I wouldn’t say that toes and feet are my favourite part of the body, and they are a part of my body that I’ve worked hard to accept.  But I wouldn’t be that squeamish about them.  I frequently have to work on them as part of my job and I think they have a huge impact on the rest of the body.  However, I really don’t understand what makes someone decide to be a podiatrist or a chiropodist.

Yoga has definitely helped me become more accepting of my feet and the way that they look.  This acceptance hasn’t been helped with online comments about how men’s feet are horrible and men should never wear sandals.    I really don’t understand this as, having seen quite a few feet, women’s feet aren’t special (other than some fabulous nail varnish colours).  I do look after my feet, and check them regularly and getting a check up if anything seems unusual.  Anyway, my personal hygiene aside, I thought I would just write about feet as they are really awesome things (like most of the body) and should probably be given a bit more love.

They are complex things with 26 bones in each one, which is only one less than the hand and wrist.  Wikipedia also says that these bones have 33 joints, twenty of which are active (moved by muscles) and have over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments working on them.  The foot is divided into three sections:

  • The hind foot is formed by two bones: the calcaneus (heel bone) and the talus that meets the tibia and fibula to form the ankle joint(s).
  • The mid foot, which is made up of the tarsals.  These are small uniquely shaped bones that are tightly packed in.  They are the Cuboid, the Navicular and the three cuneiforms (medial, middle and lateral).
  • The forefoot is made up of the five long metatarsals, and the 14 phalanges (each toe has three bones in it, except the big toe, which only has 2 bones)

These bones are moved by muscles that start outside this ankle/foot (called extrinsic, and include all of the muscles of the lower leg) and muscles that are within the foot only (called intrinsic muscles).  I’m just going to repeat that all of the muscles of the lower leg attach onto one of the bones of the foot.

The foot has three arches within its structure, that allow it to both absorb the impact with the ground, and also to store energy to help propel us forwards.  These are all found underneath the foot in the region called the plantar aspect:

  • The medial longitudinal arch, which is the longest arch, and is the one from the base of the big toe to the heel.  This is the one that “collapses” when we over pronate (allow the ankle to drop in)
  • The lateral longitudinal arch, whish is the outer edge of the foot from the little toe to the heel.  This isn’t quite so well developed.
  • The transverse arch, this is the arch that goes from the inside (medial) part of the foot, to the outer edge (lateral) and allows a certain amount of spread.

These arches adapt to what we are walking on and they are helped in this by the plantar fascia of the sole of the foot.  This is the trampoline like structure that covers the base of the foot.  It extends, roughly, in a triangle, from the heel to the base of the big toe, and to the base of the little toe.  It helps to store and release tension as we walk and run, catapulting us forwards with each step.  Unfortunately, this can become inflamed in what is called Plantar Fasciitis.  This painful condition can strike anyone, but particularly people who suddenly change the amount of walking or running they are doing.  In most cases the calf muscles are getting too tight, so stretching these can help, but if in doubt then come and get it checked out.

The feet have a large number of sensory nerves, maybe not as many as the hands, but they provide a lot of information to the brain about the surface that we are on.  If you have ever stepped onto a small stone or piece of Lego, then you will know how painful it can be.  The big toe is served by the longest nerve cell in the body, as it starts all the way up in the low back and is part of the sciatic nerve.

Modern life is depriving the feet of sensory stimulation: we put them in great big  blocks of cotton wool called shoes, which often cramp the toes so they can’t move.  As a society we are also working on flattening all surfaces that we walk on, and generally complain when they’re not smooth (think cobble stones and broken paving slabs).  In an ideal world we would be walking around barefoot as often as possible, allowing our toes to stretch and feel and respond to a variety of surfaces.  When we do have to cover our feet, I would suggest shoes that have a wide “toe box” which is the bit across the front of the foot.  Unfortunately, fashion currently seems to hate this and crams the toes (particularly women’s shoes) into pointy shoes.  Also shoes that allow us to sense the surface under our feet are a good thing.   Although I’m not totally convinced that completely “barefoot” soles are suitable for the urban environment, I am leaning towards them being a good idea.

Our feet and the proprioceptive awareness that the mechanoreceptors in the retinaculae of the ankle (which is what we damage when we sprain our ankles) should constantly provide information on what we’re walking on and help adapt the body to cope.  So if we don’t stimulate them then we lose some of this responsiveness, which is also lost when we “just” sprain the ankle.  This lack of awareness will make our stability less

So this is a brief visit and look at the feet, which is actually a huge subject really.  So I’ve not really spoken fully about barefoot shoes, or exercises for them, or pronation, or orthotics, or so many other things.

I will just leave you with the idea that we should give our feet some love: rubbing them with our hands when they’re tired, soaking them and paying attention to issues.  I remember my first evening of my first ever massage course, there were twelve of us on the course (8 men, four women) and we learnt a leg and foot massage, but we shouldn’t do that if there were any signs of verrucas, athlete’s foot or other skin issues: I was the only person to get a foot massage, as everyone else had issues.

Oh, one more thing: as you walk along notice if you bash your feet down as if you are punching the earth or if your feet seem to land gently as if you were kissing the ground.  See which feels nicer for you.

Thanks for reading this my lovely Interonauts.