I’ve written before about my one seriously arthritic toe. One! What a weirdo toe. It’s the same toe that kept losing the toe nail at even the hint of strenuous activity. It’s a toenail that sees cross country skiing in its future, turns black, and falls off. The same, of course, for running. It’s my Bad Toe, and I’ve even been prescribed toe physio for it.
I confess I haven’t been keeping up with my toe physio. And issues with my knees felt more pressing and that felt like physio enough.
Until my feet started hurting while riding my bike. Toe cramps bad enough to make me want to get off my bike. Ouch! I wear orthotics in my running shoes and in my everyday boots. But until now I thought of cycling as an activity that didn’t require orthotics. The keywords are “until now.”
So I now have orthotics for my cycling shoes, in addition to my running shoes, and they seem to help. Aging bodies and activity seem to require a bunch of extra work and resources. I’m feeling extra grateful for my benefits these days.
Recommended Soundtrack “I’m still standing” by Elton John
I write a lot about walking. Yup. Still happening every day and averaging 13,000 steps a day this year. That’s up from 9,800 last year. Yay!
I was talking to friends this week about that moment in your life where you don’t take pain free walking for granted. This revelation came to me in waves. First, when pregnant, more recently I had a serious bout of plantar fasciitis a couple years ago. It hurt so much!
So I’m especially thankful that I’m more aware of my feet and what I need to do to care for them.
A variety of footwear in good repair
I continue to buy good quality footwear. I’ve added variety from Keen slip on sandals with structured support to Manitobah moccasins that have a supple sole to ensure my feet get a full range of motion. I have a more supportive Keen hiking sandal as well as insulated slip on Merrel clogs. ALL THE FOOTWEAR.
I regularly inspect my footwear for wear and tear and throw them out when repairs are no longer keeping them functional. No more worn out shoes for me!
Stretching and massaging
I stretch my soles, toes, calves and ankles throughout the day. I continue to use spiked balls, softer wool ones that Catherine recommended and yoga straps to help.
Even on the couch I point and flex my feet. I try to scrunch up my toes and also spread them apart. There are lots of popping and crunching sounds but no pain. Yay!
Shoe free time
Some folks wear shoes indoors to support their feet. I find having bare foot time helpful in experiencing a full range of motion in my feet and checking in with how my feet are doing. If they get cranky I slip on some Merrels I keep inside for daytime use.
Sitting and Standing
Both got my paid work and my housework, I alternate between sitting and standing to work my feet and rest them.
I am taking a Zoom choir where I stand for 90 minutes. I don’t like singing seated, there’s too much boob, belly and thigh competing for space to get my breathing right. It has caused me to realize an hour of standing is really my limit so I do sit…or even lay down to sing.
Checking in with my feet
All of this to say I now pay attention if there is tenderness or aches in my feet. I get investigative and reflect on what has changed and what steps I can take to keep my feet functioning.
Is there some ache that you have been able to turn around? What did you do? How are you sustaining the changes/supports?
I have spent entirely too much time thinking about my big toes this week.
Aside from the occasional stubbing incident, and an unfortunately-located bee sting when I was 8, I have never given my big toes much thought at all.
But last week, a conversation with my chiropractor led to the realization that I roll my foot inwards when I am trying to keep my balance. That means that the muscles in my feet weak from not being used properly. And, I am compensating for that weakness by using muscles in my legs instead.
Well, this is probably tied into that whole mess, too.
I’m not sure if the problem started with my toes, messed up my foot, then aggravated my calf and so on, or if things went the other way, or if it all kind of happened at once.*
I wish that I could have noticed the whole thing before it got this bad, I just have to work through all of the different muscles while they recover.
So, I’ve added some toe exercises to my calf/heel/foot routine. I have been taking my chiropractor’s advice and consciously choosing to use my big toe for support as I do yoga and walk and practice Taekwondo.
And I bought some of these chummies (you may know them as toe spacers but they’re chummies to me.)
I think my feet are feeling a little better already but that is probably just the power of suggestion.
I guess that as long as it encourages me to keep up a routine that will work, it’s a useful form of delusion, right?
Anyway, let’s hope that I can soon get back to not thinking about my toes, my feet, or my calves at all.
*This article certainly makes it sound like the problem could have originated in my toes.
What’s your weak spot? Mine is my feet and ankles. They are almost never perfectly happy. I am constantly searching for that magical, elusive shoe that will 1) cushion my flat feet; 2) be gentle enough to avoid giving me blisters, and 3) be sturdy and supportive enough so I don’t twist, turn or sprain an ankle.
So imagine my surprise and pleasure to see that my local studio, Artemis in Watertown, MA, was holding an event called Functional Body Workshop: The Feet! Sign me up now!
The workshop was part information session and part foot/leg workout. We started with a cool exercise that added an arts-and-crafts element: we were supposed to pair up and draw an outline of our partner’s feet on a piece of paper. Here’s mine:
Then, we were asked to stand on our yoga mats for a bit, eyes closed, attending to what our bodies felt like, focusing on the feet. We were asked to annotate our foot drawing with that information. I noted the following on mine:
both feet pronate inward
some pressure on left heel
more stability on right foot
more pressure on left foot
some leg and lower back stiffness
Then we went to work: The teacher, Carly Vernon, who does integrative muscular therapy, handed us each a woolen ball (squishier than a tennis ball), and we proceeded to use it for various forms of deep massage. We used our body weight and moved the ball around to work areas of our legs, ankles and feet. We massaged and rubbed our toes.
Some of these exercises, well, uh, they hurt. A good bit. When asked about pain, Carly said, “when you experience pain during these exercises, double down on it. Let yourself get inside it. Don’t back off.” Uh, okay. It was pretty interesting to play around with intensity while doing these exercises. We worked all the way from our IT bands above the knee to the knee area, down the calf (front and back) and focusing a lot on the foot and ankle.
After about 75 minutes of intermittent exercises (with breaks), I tried a couple of yoga poses. I often have trouble with balance in some of the warrior poses, like this one:
What happens sometimes is that my feet will start to cramp, as I’m holding them tightly for balance. Well, I tried several warrior variations, and they felt great. It was a totally different experience. Wow.
Before we ended, we were asked to stand on our yoga mats again, eyes closed, paying attention to our bodies in general (and feet in particular). Were there any differences?
You betcha. Here’s my feet picture showing in green my before-exercise comments and in red my after-exercise comments:
So what changed?
less inward pronation
a shift in the areas and degree of tenderness in my left foot
overall more even distribution of weight on both feet
no more feeling of pressure on left foot
no more leg or lower back stiffness
Of course, none of this is a miracle (although I’m very grateful for Carly’s expertise and help at the workshop). It’s the result of concerted attention to my feet. If I want my feet to feel great, I will have to attend more to them. Sigh. One wishes that feeling great in parts of one’s body required less work. But knowledge is power, and I now have some easy-to-do exercises (and a nice orange woolen ball as a takeaway gift) that I can (and should) do anytime. They do a lot for me– it’s the least I can do for them.