Dealing with My Feet

I’ve been staring at the blank page trying to figure out how to start and organize my feet.

Background

I’ve beaten them up a lot over the years. 18 years of ballet, with about 5 years of pointe in there, made my genetic propensity for bunions even more extreme. I have crazy callouses on my toes and toe knuckles from this that seem to never forget. Then years of judo. You can see in videos of pics how flat footed I am during randori, but I never had any issues with that because I was using my feet in so many different ways that they were able to stay strong and flexible.

I started having problems when I began doing strongman. I had done competitive weightlifting for about 7 years, and had never thought much about what my feet did in my shoes. I wasn’t really moving around much, so I’m sure I was squatting and lifting on collapsed arches and rolled in ankles. But I never felt the effects of that since I wasn’t really moving around much.

Plantar Fasciitis

But starting strongman, suddenly I’m carrying hundreds of pounds and trying to scamper it from point A to point B as fast as I can. 200 lbs sandbags, 150 lbs kegs, 500 lbs yokes.

And I started having horrible heel pain.

I would have to get out of bed really carefully. I’d have to do a few knee bends and calf raises before heading down the stairs.

Tried rolling out the calf, stretching, wearing arch supports in my shoes, and nothing seemed to make a dent.

Then I read this article.

A switch flipped in my head.

I needed to stop doing things TO my feet, and start doing the right things with my feet.

1) Focus on standing and walking.

I have pretty flexible arches. I have a great point, great foot articulation. But as with many cases of hyper mobility, I didn’t control it correctly and I let my arch collapse. When I walk, despite keeping my toes forward, my ankle ever so slightly rolls in and my arch flattens out.

There is a reason this is the prototypical foot imprint image.

I’m having to relearn how to walk anyway, I might as well take a fully ground up approach. So I start working on focusing the pressure of my steps on the outside of my feet and ending on the base knuckle of my big toe, never letting the arch touch the ground. For the first 1.5 weeks of doing this my arches would actually get TIRED! Like that achy sensation you get in your quads when hiking up hill, I was getting that feeling in the underside of my foot. I figured this was a sign I was on the right track to strengthening my feet.

After 2.5 weeks of this, my heel pain has disappeared. I’m at about 5 weeks out from making this change and I’m not having to work or think nearly as hard about this new habit.

2) My toes are sardines.

Between my genetic predisposition and years of pointe shoes, I have some gnarly bunions. Particularly on my left foot, since that was my preferred balance side. It’s at the point where doing a lunge with the left foot back is painful because I’ve lost a lot of toe flexion. My mom had to have surgery to fix her bunions as they kept growing and eventually pushed into her second toe and cause a lot of pain walking.

You should be able to draw a line from your heel along the bones of your feet, and out your toes.

My first step, that I took four years ago, was to get wide toed shoes. I live in my Reebok Nanos and Reebok powerlifting shoes. I can spread my toes and wiggle them around. But simply changing how much room they had only meant that they are no longer being crushed, not that they will ever return to normal.

That’s where my two styles of toe separators come in.

a) Daily toe separators

Every day I’m wearing my sports shoes, I’m wearing this toe separator (image is link):

In-shoe Separator

The first week, after a few hours, I had to take it off because my feet would get so annoyed. But again, I’m about 5 weeks into using it and I barely even notice it AND my left foot is feeling less and less pain during lunges. Having this on has the added benefit of keeping me more aware of my feet and reminding me to walk like I described above.

b) Yoga Toes to bed

Since healthy feet need all of the toes to be able to spread apart, at night I started wearing YogaToes (image is link):

YogaToes torture device

This one is a pretty extreme stretch for my feet, and I certainly can’t walk in them, hence wearing them in bed. I have no idea how long I wear them, because at some point in the night I must rip them off and I find them either in my hands or on my nightstand. Never the less, it’s better than nothing, and maybe, just maybe, if I give it long enough, I’ll someday wake up with them still on my feet.

So all in all, I’ve achieved two things I set out to improve: eliminate my heel pain and stop lunges from being so painful on my toes. My ultimate goal is to avoid having to get the foot surgery that my mom and many dance instructors of my youth eventually had to have. Only time will tell with that one.