Over the past couple of years we have seen a bigger push towards minimalistic shoes. But are these shoes doing us any favours, or are they just a new trend/fad that has taken hold?

Firstly we need to look at the feet as an important part of our bodies and not just something that holds us up. If they don’t work correctly, or aren’t able to absorb the shock forces of moving about, problems will stem up the chain. Leading to pain and dysfunction in our knees, hips, low back or even in the neck.

Numerous studies conducted throughout the world have started to indicate that footwear is actually one of the major contributors to foot, leg and back problems. In fact, in countries where shoes are not worn, only three percent of these problems occur compared to a shoe wearing population.

We already know how tight fitting shoes can cause pain, let alone putting your foot into a high heel. But even just wearing shoes in general can be compared to putting our feet into a vice everyday. This in turn weakens the intrinsic muscles of the feet and reduces the proprioceptive feedback from the feet to the brain.

Most footwear companies aim at promoting designs with various supportive features in an attempt to improve comfort and performance. This can be great in the short term at relieving the symptoms, but unfortunately in the long term sets up a never-ending cycle where the foot will progressively become weaker and more dependent on the added support. Conventional insoles and shoe inserts work in the same manner, supporting the foot but not allowing natural movement and strength from the feet muscles. So hence overall the foot structure becomes weaker and more reliant on these supportive devices and shoes.

The Barefoot Science Foot Strengthening System is not an instant fix but, with consistent use, works like an exercise program to start to strengthen the feet muscles quickly and safely, restoring foot function, optimising comfort and performance. They have been quoted as similar to walking in the sand. By also encompassing the exercises below, you might just get your feet to work as they are meant to and not be just things that get you from A to B.

So the first step to freeing your feet is to create mobility and flexibility. If you are serious about working the feet, exercises need to be done constantly and persistently. Feet exercises are tedious and it might be sometime before you see the results of your hard work. Below is a list of some exercises that can help your feet to becoming unlocked and start moving again.

Firstly you want to free your feet. So this means we want to try and have your feet and toes start to work independently. Start all these exercises with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder distance apart. Start in the sitting position first and then progress to standing if you are able to.

1. Toe Fan: lift and lower your toes. You want your pinkie toe to rise to the same level as your big toe. Repeat 4 times. Then try to lift toes and spread them apart as wide as you can, go for 4 times. This will strengthen the anterior compartment (shin) as well as your toes;

2. Great Toe Down: Do one foot at a time. Start with lifting all your 5 toes up in the arm like in toe fanning. But this time you want just your big toe to lift up and down and press into the ground whilst the other 4 remain in the air. Repeat 8 times and then do the other foot. Advancement is to then do the pinkie/little toe up and down 8 times. And then you can alternate between the big toe and the pinkie toe 8 times. This helps develop connections with the feet on a neuromuscular level, letting the brain achieve the feed back from the feet;

3. Rock Out: Rock onto the outer edge of your feet and then the inner edge a few times loosening up the ankles. This starts to strength the ankles and creates mobility in the rear foot;

4. Heel Raise: Lift just your heel of your right foot off the ground so you are on the ball of that foot. Slowly lower the heel back to the ground. If possible try this whilst standing on one foot otherwise start with the other foot on the ground. Repeat 8 times. Then, with the heel lifted off the ground, roll the ball of the foot from side to side 8 times. Repeat on the other side. This exercise develops flexibility in the forefoot and proprioception/balance;

5. Doming: Grip the ground with your toes and then release. Grip it rather than curl the toes under. Repeat 4 times. This exercise stimulates the movement of the arch lifting;

6. Towel Scrunches: place a towel on a flat surface, preferably smooth initially. Whilst sitting, place one foot on top of the towel and try and move the towel across the floor using the same motion as doming and keeping your heel on the floor. The edge of the towel should move towards you and scrunch up under your foot. Repeat this 4 times. Progression is to use a slight weight on the end of the towel and then try the exercise;

7. Toe Walks: Come up and balance on your toes as high as you can and then walk forward and backward for a set amount of time in each direction. Start with 30 seconds in each direction and then increase time from there;

8. Heel walks: Rock back and balance on your heels as high as you can and walk forward and backward for a set amount of time in each direction. Start with 30 seconds in each direction and increase time from there.

Take a few minutes each day to perform these exercises. You should find your balance, flexibility, and alignment will improve with persistence.

If you would like more information or would like to book an appointment at Neurohealth Chiropractic – please call the clinic on 9905 9099 or email us admin@neurohealthchiro.com.au or fill in the contact form from our website www.neurohealthchiro.com.au

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This article is written by Dr. Steven Cannon, Chiropractor – Neurohealth Chiropractic