This week we are working on building strength in the arches of our feet which often collapse in, giving a flat foot, in which the muscles are atrophied (weakened) and inevitably this gives us a biomechanical disadvantage that affects the body from the feet up. We are building up the overall strength of the foot so that we can balance well and have everything higher up the chain (knee, and hip joints in particular) in the correct alignment which helps to prevent injuries and foot deformities such as bunions.

There are three arches in the foot – the most commonly known is the medial arch but there are also arches along the outside of the foot and between the big toe base and the little toe base. Ideally we want all three working perfectly. In modern day culture, in which we are shod most of the day, the bottom of the foot, and the arch’s proprioceptors are not being stimulated enough. In minimalist shoes, like the vibram five finger shoes I wear, the only wear and tear will be on the tips of the toes, and that is because my foot instinctively lifts the arch away from rocks, stones and other uneven surfaces all the time it experiences them (you’d be surprised how uneven surfaces are in even in our concrete landscape!!!).

Having the arches flat, puts pressure on the knees which want to knock toward each other and this has negative consequences in the hips and spine higher up the body. Weakened arches also cause bunions since years of incorrect alignment puts pressure on the big toe joint.

80% of the human population over pronated (collapsed arch or “flat footed”). In a way it is not that surprising since gravity constantly pulling us down. We need to work against gravity to pull the arch upward. Pronation not a problem – the foot is well designed for this medial rotational stress – you are supposed to roll into pronation as the foot loads then muscles further up the leg kick in to prevent the foot from over pronation. However, overpronation IS a problem as too much load (system overload) will stress all of the joints and make us vulnerable to injury and joint distortion.

One of the myths of pronated feet is that it is genetic or is racially determined. However, just like any other muscles, the arch is possible to correct without resorting to orthotics. It’s a TOTAL myth that orthotics are the only thing that correct it or that it is untreatable. The exercises we have been doing in class this week have been designed to get better feedback from the foot. The better the feedback from the foot (wearing no shoes or minimalist shoes, like my vibram five fingers, in every day life will support this) the better we can control the function of the foot. If the ligaments in the feet are lax, the info from the initial loading won’t get through to the system that prevents the over pronation and the foot muscles need to be strengthened – we did lots of these in class this week.

A headache isn’t caused by an aspirin deficiency in the same way that an over pronation isn’t caused by an orthotics deficiency! Most people who are given arch supports (usually for a hefty sum of around £250 by enthusiastic podiatrists) pop the support in their foot (if they can stand to wear it long enough) and as a consequence, they pronate harder against the support which weakens the arch still further.

Orthotics can be helpful as an acute measure whilst the muscles are learning and strengthening but not long term and only for about 5% of the seriously over pronated population. Just like a broken arm needs a brace of a POP whilst it’s healing. Within 6 weeks an arm is down to 60% of its muscle mass. This arm would be very vulnerable to taking a load. The feet can be strengthened by using barefoot shoes but just like the withered arm, it is dangerous to do too much too soon in minimalist shoes. If you are determined to try them, speak to me about training your feet to wear them.

Another additional problem that is caused by wearing shoes is that it encourages a heel strike or “leading with the heel”. We wouldn’t heel strike for long with no shoes on – we found this when we walked on our heels in the exercise walking up and down the mat. This jars the spine and is too much impact and takes the foot into too much pronation. If the load is taken further forward in the foot, there is no loading to take the foot into pronation. Forefoot strike causes a smaller stride and looks more ballet-like. Heel striking looks clumsy as you can see in this video.

In a clumpy training shoe which is very wide the foot hits the ground inverted and this causes a massive force on the outside of the foot which then pronates in response.
Eventually we take the impact of this in our spine. It is far more natural to hit the ground with the forefoot and this gait is encouraged with minimalist shoes. This way the calf becomes a sponge for the impact as the feet hit the ground, which is what is is designed to do.

During heel leading it a bit like pole volt like the first stick man, you can see how a forefoot strike makes better sense for us:

Another problem with running shoes is that most have a heel drop, sometimes up to 16 mm, which creates contracture of the Achilles’ tendon and shortening in the calf. This causes overpronation.The footwear is therefore damaging our ability to function.

The feet are very squashed in most types of shoes (especially women’s that are ultra narrow and often pointed) and over the years, this has made our toes very falsely cramped and unless we deliberately wear shoes that keep the correct toe alignment, such as vibram five fingers then it is usually necessary to wear “correct toes” in a shoe with a no heel whatsoever and a very wide toe box. I would not recommend that you get a cheap version of these. They don’t work the same way (I’ve had them all and they are rubbish). Here is a link to the range sold by Primal Lifestyle who also sell the barefoot running shoes (VFF) and don’t charge for returns so you can order several sizes. Correct Toes have a lifetime guarantee. The guy that runs this site is an osteopath and his training videos are expensive but very informative. One of them, about pronation, informed my research this week for the class.

This is how the foot is designed to look. It should be like the hand when it’s relaxed, wider at the ends of the toes, and narrower at the heel like this:

As you can see, the toes are flat, not scrunched up and the line from heel to big toe is straight. However, wearing shoes has spoilt that arrangement and made us unstable. Gluteus Medius is also inhibited, especially in women.

Unfortunately, years of being shod in narrow shoes have caused a change to people who don’t practice wearing the correct footwear or doing Yoga (Toga) exercises so they look like this:

You can understand why there has been a rise in bunions when you look at this picture! You can see there is more bone in the bunion area.

The medial arch of the foot is only stabilised when toes are in correct place. This is why I advise you to wear “correct toes” inside shoes with a very wide toe box and at night until you see some changes in your foot alignment. Then begin to work on lifting your arches and increasing the strength in your feet.

Here is a picture that shoes changes in the feet of a 7 year old boy after wearing shoes for only 3 months!!!!! This definitely busts the myth that the foot problem is only inherited:

We need to counter that with the kind of exercise and wearing of Toe spreaders (correct toes):

The foot on the far left (A) is from an anatomy text book which shows that it has become acceptable now to see this kind of misalignment as normal when in fact they should be more like B.

Heel height obviously changes the anatomy of the foot and the gait:

An anterior tilt necessary to correct this as we have previously discussed in class:


This creates a quad dominant posture which causes a pull on the pelvis and glutes are then weak and a descending pronation issue:

The belly also causes weight and a forward sent to of gravity, particularly in overweight people, those who have de-conditioned abdominal walls, those who are constipated and menstruating women. So gravity is drawing the belly forward and pulling the pelvis forward with it. A little bit like when we lead with the chin and cause a pull on the shoulders and upper back. So sometimes pronation can come from the top down:

The pronation disappears when you lie on a foam roller (longways) with one foot in air and arms across chest. This tells us that when the load is removed and the nervous system switched on, the foot knows exactly where it should be and that with training in the exercises we did in today’s class, you can retrain your foot to sit correctly and function better in every day life – hoorah! Definitely worth a few quid that then!

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