Why is foot strength important?
The foot is our connection to the ground when we are standing, and the first thing to touch the ground when we are walking or running. It is the first joint to accept impact during these activities. Many people only consider strengthening or working on mobility of their feet if they are experiencing pain in their foot, however, weakness and stiffness in the feet can lead to problems in other joints as well. Many individuals that present with knee pain, hip pain, or lower back pain also have weakness in their feet that cause dysfunctional walking patterns or increased stress on their joints when standing, walking, negotiating stairs, and participating in other exercises and activities.
Orthotics are often prescribed for patients who are experiencing pain in their feet or in some of these other joints mentioned. While orthotics can be helpful short term, they should not be considered a permanent fix. The most common issues I see with orthotics is compliance of wearing due to changing footwear (or wearing sandals or other footwear that the patient cannot wear the orthotics with), discomfort with prolonged use, or a lack of improvement in symptoms long term. This is because orthotics are really a brace for the foot, and should be used temporarily in conjunction with other treatments (just as if you are wearing a brace for an ankle sprain, knee injury, etc. You wouldn’t wear that brace forever!).
There are many ways to strengthen the feet, one of which is simply doing more without shoes. Many shoes are very stiff and provide a lot of support, which stabilizes the foot externally, rather than using the foot muscles to stabilize. The goal should be to move toward wearing less supportive shoes, meaning they should be flexible with a zero drop sole. However, this must be done gradually!! If you have been wearing stiff, supportive shoes that are more elevated in the heel every day and move to a flat, flexible shoe, you will likely develop some pain in the foot, knee, hip, and/or low back. Try doing some exercises and daily activities without shoes (if you squat or deadlift - take your shoes off!), do some foot strengthening exercises (check our IG or YouTube channel for some ideas), and gradually purchase less and less supportive shoes with more flexibility every time you are due for a new pair.
Here is an example of one of our favorite foot strengthening exercises that can be done anywhere!
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