It's no secret around our office that the feet are one of the most neglected, abused, yet crucial parts of our body. We often describe the feet as the foundation of the body. We don't intend to oversimplify the complex structure and motions of the body, but quite literally, our feet are what connect our bodies to the ground, and they are much more dynamic than cinder blocks or stilts. If this foundation begins to collapse, so does the structure above.
The foot is made up of many joints, ligaments, and muscles that are intended to move and support the structure of the foot and the entire skeletal system above under the load of your body weight when standing, squatting, walking, running, or jumping. The forces being transmitted through the foot and to the ground are multiplied many times over during any of those activities, yet many people struggle to resist even 5-10 lbs of force when fully contracting the muscles that primarily support the arch, such as curling the toes or "making a fist" with the foot. This is in stark contrast to most people's hands, which are typically very strong and capable, despite the fact that they are rarely required to tolerate the workload and stress that our feet do just on an average day of standing and walking!
It's to be somewhat expected that our feet lack the dexterity that our hands possess, but there's really no good reason to have such a disparity of strength between the two. With a lack of strength in the muscles comes a lack of stability. A lack of stability in the foot causes a lack of stability in the entire system above, which requires compensation to prevent injury and maintain function. This compensation is useful, because our bodies don't just break down immediately, but it may eventually lead to you entering "limp mode" as the compensating muscles approach overuse and begin to hurt, or worse, joints (i.e. ankles, knees, and hips), and/or connective tissues become compromised as a result of abnormal joint motions and forces.
These weaknesses can typically be contributed to neurological inhibition, which is a degradation of the signal from the nervous system to the muscle, which leads to a much weaker contraction and eventual atrophy (decrease in size) of the muscle due to the long periods of inactivity (if you don't use it, you lose it). Many people ask how these muscles could have possibly become weak when they've been walking, running, exercising, and even going barefoot from time to time. Well, the truth is, it's nearly impossible to maintain strength in the muscles around a joint (or multiple joints in the case of the foot) if the joint has been mostly immobilized in a cast (or stiff shoe) for most of our lives. On top of that, when not immobilized by a shoe, the foot mostly just stays pancaked against the flat, hard ground, which means many of the muscles and joints never travel through much of their range of motion. Imagine trying to build size and strength in your biceps without ever bending your elbow more than 5-10 degrees!
So, what do we do about all of this? To start, the muscles that have become neurologically inhibited need to become more active, which is where Muscle Activation Techniques come into play. With MAT, we can assess which muscles are inhibited, manually stimulate them, and walk you through performing very specific isometric exercises to help you begin recruiting the muscles so they can begin to build strength. How do we build strength in the muscles on the rest of our body? We exercise! Hopefully, we don't just flail around in hopes of getting something right, but we perform a variety of somewhat specific movements under different loads to eventually work every muscle group to build strength and endurance... Except almost NOBODY does this with their poor feet!
We regularly prescribe a few simple, practical exercises to our clients (and ourselves) to help them begin developing strength in their feet. For those whose feet are still mostly functional, these simple, easy to remember exercises can help them build fairly sufficient strength in their feet. However, there are others that need some more concentrated and intensive work, such as people whose feet have become extremely dysfunctional over the span of many years or some major injury, or athletes whose sport requires a high degree of balance, speed, or power (all of which rely heavily on foot strength). For these cases, we are grateful to have Amber Bernhardt as a reliable resource to refer to for our clients in need. Amber runs an excellent training program that will thoroughly improve the strength and function of your feet.
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