How are our feet built?

Did you know our amazing feet are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles, and numerous tendons? Yes, complex biomechanics keep all these parts in the right position and moving together. Given the complexity of our feet, it is not surprising that most people will experience some problem with their feet at some time in their lives.

Within each of our feet, the essential structure can be summed up as follows:

  • 7 short tarsal bones make up the heel and back of the instep.
  • 5 metatarsal bones that spread from the back of the foot toward front and make up the structure for the ball of the foot. Each metatarsal is associated with one of the toes.
  • 14 phalanges, small bones, form the toe structure.
  • Tarsal and metatarsal bones provide the structure for the arch of the foot.
  • Bands of ligaments connect and hold all the bones in place.
  • A thick layer of fatty tissue under the sole helps absorb the pressure and shock that comes from daily walking and everyday movements.

Below are the most common foot problems…when we do not take care of our feet:

  • “Bunions—misaligned big toe joints that swell and become tender, causing the first joint of the big toe to slant outward and the second joint to angle toward the other toes. Bunions tend to be hereditary, but can be aggravated by shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot and toe. Surgery is frequently performed to correct the problem.
  • Hammertoes—usually stemming from muscle imbalance, this condition occurs when the toe is bent into a claw-like position. Hammertoe can affect any toe, but most frequently occurs to the second toe, when a bunion slants the big toe toward and under it. Selecting shoes and socks that do not cramp the toes may help alleviate any aggravation of pain or discomfort.
  • Heel Spurs—growths of bone on the underside, forepart of the heel bone. Heel spurs occur when the plantar tendon pulls at its attachment to the heel bone. This area of the heel later calcifies to form a spur. Proper warm-up and the use of appropriate athletic shoes can reduce the strain to the ligament and prevent the formation of heel spurs.
  • Ingrown Toenails—toenails with corners or sides that dig painfully into the skin. Ingrown toenails are usually caused by improper nail trimming, but can also result from shoe pressure, injury, fungus infection, heredity, and poor foot structure. Women are more likely to have ingrown toenails than men. The problem can be prevented by trimming toenails straight across, selecting proper shoe styles and sizes, and responding to foot pain in a timely manner.
  • Neuromas—enlarged benign growths of nerves, most commonly between the third and fourth toes. Neuromas are caused by tissue rubbing against and irritating the nerves. Pressure from ill-fitting shoes or abnormal bone structure can also lead to this condition. Depending on the severity, treatments may include orthotics (shoe inserts), cortisone injections, and, in extreme cases, surgical removal of the growth.
  • Plantar Fasciitis—an inflammation on the bottom of the foot that leads to heel and/or arch pain. A variety of foot injuries or improper foot mechanics can lead to plantar fasciitis. Treatments range from icing and foot exercises to the prescription of custom orthotics to correct the foot position and help alleviate pain.
  • Sesamoiditis—an inflammation or rupture of the two small bones (known as sesamoids) under the first metatarsal bone. Proper shoe selection and orthotics can help.
  • Shin Splints—pain on either side of the leg bone caused by muscle or tendon inflammation. Shin splints are related to excessive foot pronation, but also may be related to a muscle imbalance between opposing muscle groups in the leg. Proper stretching before and after exercise and corrective orthotics for pronation can help prevent shin splints.
  • Stress Fractures—incomplete cracks in bone caused by overuse. With complete rest, stress fractures in toes or any bones of the foot heal quickly. Extra padding in shoes can help prevent the condition. Left untreated, stress fractures may become complete bone fractures, which require casting and immobilization.” Provided by top SF Bay area Dr. James B. Robison, D.P.M.

These basic effective stretching exercises below help to prepare the foot and ankle for exercise as well as help maintain overall body balance.

  • The wall push-up– Face a wall from three feet away, with feet flat on the floor, and knees locked. Lean into the wall, keeping feet on the floor and hold for 10 seconds as the calf muscle stretches, then relax. Do not bounce. Repeat five times.
  • The hamstring stretch– Put your foot, with knee straight and locked, on a chair or table. Keep the other leg straight with knee locked. Lower your head toward the raised knee until the muscles tighten. Hold to a count of 10 then relax. Repeat five times, then switch to the other leg.
  • Lower back stretch- In a standing position, keep both legs straight, feet spread slightly. Bend over at the waist and attempt to touch the palms of your hands to the floor. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Do not bounce.
  • Calf muscle stretching– is very useful in the prevention and treatment of many foot problems. Two typical methods for stretching your calf muscles include the wall push-up (described above) and this technique: Standing approximately two feet from a wall. While facing the wall, turn your feet inward (“pigeon toed”) and lean forward into the wall, keeping your heels on the floor and the knees extended. Keep your back straight and don’t bend at the hips. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and do the stretch 10 times in a row.

Another great self- treatment method that I experienced with excellent results and is great for your feet and entire body, is the MELT Method.  This works wonders, but you must be consistent with this method.

  • Rolling your feet through the MELT Method- not only heals your feet but helps balance and keep your body in good condition. The MELT Method® is a simple self-treatment technique that is designed to reduce chronic pain and help you stay healthy, balanced, youthful, and active for a lifetime. It only takes 10 minutes of MELT three times a week to begin to get rid of the down-side spiral effects of accumulated tension and stress caused by daily living. (This method was discovered by New York City–based manual therapist and connective tissue specialist Sue Hitzmann). MELT rehydrates the connective tissue, rebalances the nervous system, and restores space to compressed joints. It also helps with flexibility, alignment & posture, joint mobility, sleep & digestion and overall well-being.

I think everyone needs to stretch daily, especially athletes. It’s extremely important to wear uber comfortable, supportive and breathable shoes.  There are many supportive running shoes that we can wear daily but for those of us who go into the office and want to look nice, check out this amazing luxury comfort wellness line I discovered, called www.Italeau.com.   To top it off, they are also waterproof and soon they will be launching their men’s collection!