Under our skin like a (very stylish) catsuit is a layer of connective tissue called fascia, it is designed in a criss cross/grid like fashion and can stretch or compress to transfer force throughout the body. This superficial fascia (also called areolar tissue) moves freely over our bones and muscles. My son demonstrates the idea below with this finger trap toy.
The fascia at our feet and hands is deep fascia which is inelastic, strong and almost entirely made up of collagen (called an aponeurosis). The skin is attached to this fascia so as not to slide right off our fingers and toes -I’m sure there’s a more scientific way to explain this but stay with me.
When fascia gets dehydrated, under or over stretched it gets weak. The role of the arch in the foot is to spread when load is applied (when we step onto the foot) and then lift. This transfers energy to muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. When the foot is unable to do this -perhaps because of the stylish pointy shoes you might wear? The fascia becomes weak and is vulnerable to injury and micro tears. The great thing is that we have incredible bodies that want to heal us. So here are a few ways to hydrate and strengthen your foot and the fascia underneath it so you can walk, run and jump pain free.
Roll your feet to hydrate your fascia
Water is the medium of exchange inside our fascia, in fact the achilles tendon is 63% water. To
get water into the fascia we need to squeeze it like a sponge and just like a sponge when we release the pressure then water can comes back in bringing healing proteins with it. Every morning while brushing your teeth massage each foot over a small soft-ish ball, you can imagine that you are kneading dough, squashing grapes and vacuuming under a rug (don’t miss any bits)
Stretch your calves and hamstrings
The arch of the foot is the end point for the back line of fascia. We are a tensegrity system which is just a pretty word to explain that our bones are held under constant tension by our elastic links and each part speaks to every other part through this system. In other words a tight patch in one area can show up as dysfunction elsewhere. I’ve attached a band to this model of a foot and leg to illustrate the back line in slight forward stretch and releve. I also give two examples of people doing a calf and hamstring stretch with my cool suspension sling, you don’t need a forest or equipment to stretch though.
Can you lift each toe?
To strengthen the muscles of the feet while stretching the plantar fascia at the same time -
Practice lifting both big toes, keep them up then lift the second toe, then the third, then the fourth then the little toe. Anchor the ball of your foot as you do this then lower each toe - one at a time (ideally). Then start by raising the little toe first, then the fourth, the third, the second and the big toe last.
Small squats/ demi pliés
A lovely Franklin method exercise to do while waiting for public transport is to imagine the tripods of your feet (big toe, little toe and heel) moving apart and spreading and widening the sole of the foot as you bend your knees and coming together as you straighten your legs. You could even say “large footprint” as you bend your knees “small footprint” as you straighten.
Gary Ward (Anatomy in Motion) does a brilliant exercise that carries on from this one. You could do it when brushing your teeth at night, or when in the shower.
Slightly bend your knees and anchor the tripods of both feet; turn your torso to the left, feel your weight transfer over the left leg, feel the arch of the left foot engaging and lifting, then do the same on the right side.
And there you go. Some exercises for you. Our feet take us everywhere, they are a valuable asset. It makes sense to spend a few minutes every day looking after them. If you can wear comfortable shoes that give them space to move then that is a bonus.