Summertime : taking care of you feet and ankles

I couldn’t help but notice the 2 newsmen behind the morning CNN anchor, slouched like no tomorrow. Their necks were craned forward, maybe towards a good cup of coffee, but slouched nevertheless, as they sat their keyboards. While it may sound simple enough, sitting up very straight uses your muscles in a good way, without even going to the gym. Think of how uncomfortable your neck can get with a backpack, or heavy shoulder bag, if you let the upper back round forward or tip sideways. Many of our small daily habits, most stemming from poor body mechanics, whether sitting at your computer, golfing, or never stretching ,can contribute to many preventable aches, pains, and even sprains. This month the focus will be on good mechanics in the foot and ankle, to help you enjoy all the summer activities you love to do, without annoying little injuries.

 It’s All Connected. If you exercise regularly and walk, that’s great because you and your feet are getting exercise that promotes a myriad of health benefits. However, if you’re one of the 11 million people annually prone to ankle sprains or foot problems, fixing the problem is more than just putting on a high hiking boot to prevent another twist or fall. Your foot, consisting of 33 joints, 26 bones, and 3 naturally springy arches, support the entire weight of your body. Problems occur when your feet tip and tilt outward, like a duck, or collapse inward, where your arches are flattened and your knees roll in. Think of how exaggerated this can be if you’ve ever tried ice skating. Good foot alignment means your feet point forward. It’s taught in yoga as an essential pose. Called Mountain Posture, or Tadasana, and taught before attempting anything more advanced, you learn to keep your body weight even over the inner and outer edges of your feet, keeping your arches lifted. Imbalances in the foot in a dynamic sport like Alpine skiing can really make a difference in turning well right and left.

Train the balance receptors in your ankles to reduce the chance of losing your footing and re-spraining it by practicing rising up on your toes, barefoot, keeping the weight aligned over your big and second toes. Other factors come into play, when we look at the kinetic chain. (Hip bone connected to the thigh bone type-of–thing) When the knees roll in, most likely the outside of your thighs, the tensor fascia latae, is tight. This dense muscle is like a sleeve that covers the outside of the gluts and thigh. The inner thighs are usually tight in this case also. It also means that your gluts are probably weak.

Our feet cushion up to a million pounds of pressure during an hour-long hard work-out, and good shoes offer extra shock absorption. The New York Times recently ran an article on flip-flops. Researchers from Auburn University presented some findings at a recent meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, concluding that they’re best used for short periods of time, as flip-flops alter our gait. Since the toes don’t come up as much (from gripping them) as the leg swings forward, our stride length shortens, creating problems all the way up to the lower back. Similar to walking in high heels, the shortened leverage of the foot contributes to upsetting our gait from the foot upward.

Summer is so short, after-all, so for now maybe just toss your shoes off, enjoy a little bare-foot time sitting tall at your next picnic.

Printed in The Idaho Mountain Express July 25, 2008

 Connie Aronson is American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist, IDEA Elite personal trainer located at High Altitude Fitness and the YMCA in Ketchum, Idaho