The Foot-Body Connection
Your feet consist of 50 bones—about a quarter of all the bones in your body. They also have about 200 muscles, tendons, and ligaments and 60 joints. Just looking at these numbers, you can see how important the health of your feet is to your entire body.
Often, we’re not very kind to our feet. We make them walk all day in high-heeled shoes and force them to run and jump without proper support. This affects not only our feet, but the rest of our body as well.
Feet and Pain
Each foot has 7,200 nerve endings, so it’s easy to see how pain in the feet might connect to other parts of the body as well. According to one theory, massaging the feet in certain areas can block nerve signals in other parts of the body, reducing pain.
Some people practice a concept called reflexology, believing that the body is divided into ten zones. They believe there is an area on the foot that corresponds to each of these zones, and that massaging certain parts of the foot can relieve pain in certain zones.
While reflexology is scientifically unproven, it does help us understand how much the feet can affect the entire body. And various studies show how much a simple foot massage can reduce pain.
In one study, some patients who had undergone breast surgery received a foot massage, while others did not. Those who received the foot massage were found to experience significantly less pain.
In another study, women who had recently undergone a cesarean section received a foot and hand massage and reduced pain intensity.
A foot massage doesn’t only reduce pain, but it may also reduce anxiety. In one study, patients who received heart surgery significantly reduced anxiety after just four days of foot massages. Another study examined a foot massage’s effect on dementia patients’ mood and concluded the idea warranted further research.
It’s unclear exactly why the foot massage reduced pain in these studies. Perhaps it simply promoted relaxation. But the answer is clear: massaging the feet can reduce pain elsewhere.
Feet and Posture
Feet are the support system for the whole body. The feet’s architecture affects the position of the pelvis and other parts of the body. If the structure of the feet is damaged, it can affect other joints in the body and cause pain. It’s likely that improper foot alignment causes pain in the back, hip, knee, and other joints and muscles.
Walking and standing without proper support for your feet puts your body off balance and affects your posture. Notice how you walk: are you properly distributing weight throughout your feet as you step? A podiatrist can watch how you stand and walk and point out problems with the alignment of your feet. He or she can also prescribe orthotics, custom-made shoe inserts that can decrease pain in your feet—and perhaps in other areas of your body as well.
Feet and Exercise
There’s one foot-body connection that is quite clear: when our feet hurt, we don’t want to exercise. When we don’t exercise, it can lead to problems like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The lack of strength-training exercise also leads to weaker bone density with age.
If your foot pain is preventing you from exercising, see a podiatrist as soon as possible. He or she can help you determine the cause behind your foot pain and help treat it so you can get back to exercising.
If you still find exercising difficult, remember that even a light walk can help you control weight and cholesterol levels. Start out walking just 20 minutes a day. Before you exercise, you can prevent foot injury with the following stretches:
- Towel stretch: Sit on the floor and put your legs in front of you. Put a towel around your toes and pull it toward you. Hold for thirty seconds.
- Step Stretch: Stand on a step with your heels off the edge. Lower your heels, hold for 15 seconds, then lift them again.
- V Stretch: To stretch your feet, thighs, and hips, sit with your legs in a V position. Turn to one side and stretch out your arms toward your feet. You can even wiggle your toes and move your feet from side to side to help the stretch.
For more feet exercise ideas, click here.
How to Help Your Feet (and Your Entire Body)
Here are some tips to maintain good foot health—which in turn affects the health of the rest of your body.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Avoid high heels, flip flops, and other shoes that lack support. When you purchase new shoes, make sure they fit well and even leave a bit of “wiggle room.”
- If your feet swell, apply an ice pack.
- Invest in regular foot massages (even if the massages are given by an unprofessional, like a family member).
- Watch how you walk and stand. If you notice problems, talk to a podiatrist about getting custom orthotics.
- If there are any problems with your feet, like chronic pain, see a podiatrist as soon as possible.
Click here for more foot care tips. And remember to take care good care of your feet. They matter more than you think!