Saturday was foot day.
At 7 a.m. we joined our lovely friend and Restorative Exercise ™ colleague for a foot health class – she was presenting to a group of nurses during a yearly conference. The room was filled with lovely dedicated women, who spend their days lifting patients, helping them do self-care, distributing medications, or running around sleek hospital hallways.
As I looked down at the flat feet, the bunions, the hammertoes, the tired knees, the chronically tight low backs and asymmetrical shoulders, I couldn’t help but admire these women’s dedication and heart for others and also wonder how can we best help them be well, so they can assist others in their healing while staying in the best shape they can.
In about an hour Samantha presented some basic foot and lower body care exercises: a calf stretch, a top of the foot stretch, a double hamstring and calf stretch and some basic rules on standing, foot position and weight distribution. Just an hour of us walking around the crowd, adjusting bodies, helping with alignment and awareness of positioning opened a whole new world to the nurses. They couldn’t believe how simple yet powerful these small stretches were.
Just today, I received an email from one of them that read:
” Thank you so much for your valuable help with the “Ouch” movement presentation. It was wonderful. So, by the end of the day, my back was better. Today, I did all that you taught and my hammies are much looser ,pain much better. 🙂 I actually can cough without a muscle spasm. Fairly miraculous!!! Right now, I am trying my best to keep my upper back and neck in alignment. You all are angels.”
If you too have a standing job where you need to wear shoes, you may find that your feet, hips, and back have been trying to communicate to you, through fatigue, pain, discomfort, swelling, pulling and restricting, that maybe you need to move in that area a bit more. When you have a physical job that leaves you drained at the end of the day, you may want to crash on the couch just to feel your brain drain. For some people, it may take daily jogging or pushing themselves at the gym, just to clear their heads. Unfortunately, neither very hard physical exercise, not complete inactivity can restore health through blood flow and muscle relaxation to the areas that need your tender love and attention.
Enter a few exercises that you can do throughout your day to improve your overall physical condition, starting from the feet, ankles and lower legs. Your body can only be as good as your base, and once the shoe falls off your foot you can really start to feel how much room for improvement there is.
Do these throughout your day, not as one big bout of effort and let me know how you feel!
As you can see from the picture, you can even do this one as a passenger in a car – it also makes the person behind the wheel jealous 🙂 Any time – during a break, take your shoe off, and place one foot over the opposite side knee. Use your opposite hand (left foot – right hand and vise versa) to interlace the fingers between the toes and to create a gentle stretch between the toes – this allows the muscles that get squished by shoes and bearing your weight forward all day long to get a chance to stretch and breathe, and ultimately, to give your brain a better idea of your position in space and what muscles need to work to move you forward or keep you in place efficiently without causing dysfunction, and unnatural wear and tear. Hold for 30-60 seconds and do on both feet anytime you can.
To perform a calf stretch, fold up a towel in a roll and place on the ground. Place the right foot at the left end of the towel and walk your other foot forward until you feel a stretch in your right calf. Keep the foot straight and make sure that your upper body is not twisting. Hold for 60 seconds several times throughout the day. I’ve seen this stretch miraculously relieve low back pain, neck stiffness, and restore balance with walking. Frequency is key, so do it as often as you can.
This one, very much like the calf stretch, opens the neglected joints at the front of the ankle – because of footwear and lack of natural movement, we often end up with stiffness that affects our gait, squatting and freedom with running or jumping. It’s really easy to set up for it and you need no props. Just place your feet straight at hip width. Take one leg behind you and curl the toes under so that the front of the ankle opens. Keep the heel behind the ankle – often with stiffness and lack of muscle yield you will see the heel try to roll away or toward the center of the body. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat throughout the day. Find it too hard? Sit in a chair and try it that way – your body weight will be less on the stretching ankle, making it possible to do.
Place your feet at hip width on the two ends of the rolled up towel. That means that the outside of your foot will be parallel. Straighten your knees. Start to slowly bend forward at the hips, making sure your low back stays neutral. Only go as far as you can move your tailbone up without flexing your low back. Stay in this position for about a minute, making sure you can breathe and keep the legs straight. Allow the hamstrings and the calves to relax. For a version of this exercise using a chair you can read my chair blog post, here.
In addition to practicing these simple movements, you can also start to think of the surfaces you walk on – at work, just like these nurses, most of us meet just flat and sleek ground – we are not only casted by the shoes, but we are also prisoners of the flat surfaces that don’t let the 33 joints in our feet move, “breathe” and work like nature intended. When you are planning your relaxation time, build in some trails, beach time, or just walking on grass or gravel with shoes that are flexible enough to allow the bones and joints of the foot to move. Isn’t it crazy that in our off time we are in a flat gym, on a flat treadmill, or elliptical trainer, never allowing the feet to get a full range of stimulation.
Have questions about how to take better care of your feet and align your whole body – shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to get back to you and help you with books, resources and advice! Until then, move well and see you around – hopefully on some grass, rock and gravel!
p.s. Wondering why our whole day was a foot day? After we left the presentation we walked the famers market, two grocery stores, taught a 5 hour cooking class, all on our feet and then did tons of organizing and clean up when we got home. Today, I’ve been stretching and rolling my feet since I woke up and I already feel much better – but oh my – being on your feet all day is definitely a feet (get it?) of strength 🙂