Thursday, October 28, 2010

Foot Anatomy 101-The Arches


“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Leonardo da Vinci

The human foot is one of the most masterfully-designed parts of the body. It is often ignored and mistreated, but it is literally the foundation of the body, the base upon which we stand. It is also the only part of the body (when bare) that is in constant contact with our environment. In honor of this humble organ called the foot, I will embark on a series of blog posts on foot form and function. In this first post of the series, I’d like to take a look at the foot arches.

The Human Foot ArchesThe foot arches are the centerpieces of the foot. There are three arches as defined by the skeleton of the foot: the medial longitudinal arch, the lateral longitudinal arch and the transverse arch. Each arch is defined by a curvature of bones secured in position by a “keystone” bone. Many people think of the arches as rigid structures, but they are actually quite flexible and change shape considerably when unrestricted.

When standing and walking the arches are crucial for proper distribution of body weight. As you walk, the bones of the arches guide your weight from your heel along the outer edge of your foot and then across the ball of your foot to the base of your big toe. (From there, your big toe is used to propel you into your next step). During this process the arches “collapse,” especially the medial longitudinal arch. This collapsing is a normal and natural process for shock absorption. Also, the elastic soft-tissue structures of the arch stretch and retain some of the load energy they experience (up to 20%) and then snap back when you lift off, helping to propel you forward.

Of course, none the above really works that well in a shoe, which immobilizes the natural flexing, twisting and stretching movements of the arch.

Arch “supports” are detrimental to foot arches. Consider this: What other part of the body needs support? We don’t wear neck supports for our neck, or arm supports for our arms. For a time, some factory and construction workers wore back supports, but it was quickly discovered that those supports actually weakened the back and increased injuries. The same logic holds true for arch supports. When a supporting structure is placed under the arch it can no longer stretch, flex, collapse or spring the way it’s supposed to. The result is weakened arches… and flat foot. As discussed in The Barefoot Book, several studies have been done now comparing the feet of barefooters to shoe-wearers. Guess what? The shoe-wearing people have 3x higher incidence of fallen arches and flat foot.

I hope you enjoyed this quick summary of your foot arches. Give your arches a break today; kick off your shoes and walk barefoot!

11 comments:

  1. This is great info. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. just curious about high arches that ache by the end of the day...do you still recommend going barefoot?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had flat arches for years, I started running barefoot about 1.5 years ago and I am slowly developing arches.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dave, I'm not surprised that your arches are rising by running barefoot. There's some evidence from the 1980's that suggested barefoot activity could strengthen and raise arches, plus I have some data myself from a current study I'm doing. Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Business Mom, high arches (officially known as pes cavus) are generally a good thing, but some people with high arches do have aches and pains. I too have high arches. Indeed, I've measured hundreds of arches from my univeristy students and mine is in the top 3 or 4 highest, but I fortunately suffer no aches and pains at all. I spend over 95% of my life barefoot, so it's definitely possible to live barefoot comfortably with high arches. You should estimate how often you wear shoes and consider what type of shoes you often wear. With high arches, you should probably avoid shoes with elevated heels - even just one inch - as the elevation puts strain on the arch. Same for toe springs. Try wearing shoes with thin, flat soles and no arch support for a while (several months at least) and see if the aches go away. May your feet (and your business) prosper!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Barefoot is the way forward. Good article.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have very pronate feet, fairly wide hips, and an abnormally large Q angle. When I have gone almost an entire day barefoot, my back, hips, knees and feet are aching and painful for the next day after - there have been nights where I have had trouble falling asleep because of how much discomfort going barefoot inflicted on my body. In other words, for me going barefoot HURTS! I've worn orthotic inserts since I was about ten years old and this has affected the types of shoes I've worn: I have to find wide shoes that accommodate my inserts, I can't wear dress shoes with heels, and I can't wear sandals. Would going barefoot more often help someone like me, in your opinion? Because all it's ever brought me is more pain and discomfort.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kaje... please see my newest post "The Answer To The Question." Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Where can you walk and run around bare feet?? My feet hurt if I walk bare feet outdoors, obviously. I'm not sure if I was born half flat, but I remember when I was younger, my footprint had a slimmer side and a bigger hole(for the arch). I was always kinda weak child and my legs ached if I walked a lot. As I grew older, sometime in elementary school, my feet used to hurt if I walk for a long time. And until now in my twenties, my feet are half flat and my knees hurt because of that. My PT put a mini towel under the arches and the knees felt better. I guess I should try to build the natural arch by walking and running bare feet but I really don't know where I can do that. Does wearing flats help? If I wear flats or Toms, the bottom is either too flat or too thin that my feet hurt from contact on the ground. Especially, the ball of the feet, right below my toes. Any suggestions?- by the way I lived in a country where there is absolutely no shoes indoor at homes

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks to barefoot running I have a lot more patients with foot & knee pain. In the west we all pretty much wear shoes from 1-15 when our foot develops. This is bad for most feet & probably causes many foot & knee pain syndromes. So if you have kids yes get them to wear shoes as little as possible. Sadly by 15 the damage is done. We know humans can't learn grammar if not exposed to grammatical patterns before adolescence. We know developing animals if there eye is covered before they are adult, will be blind in this eye. In humans by 7 most personality traits are pretty much fixed. There is even now evidence that arthersclerotic blood vessel damage is determined before 3. I suspect, but don't know that changing foot mechanics post adolescence is likley to be very difficult. My view is each person is an individual case. I didn't notice too many barefoot olympic runners. There is often a problem when someone is suggesting one solution will suit everyone. Try walking around barefoot in the Australian summer, burns, thorns, bull ants, not to mention what might happen if you go bushwalking. I suggest there may also be trouble in siberia or canada in mid winter. I've worn flexible orthotics for years & they turned my sporting life around. However this may not be right for everyone.

    ReplyDelete

Welcome to The Barefoot Professor blog, intelligent talk about running, walking and living barefoot. I encourage your comments, even if you disagree with me. In this spirit I don't even moderate the comments. However, PLEASE use critical thinking skills when leaving comments, and avoid inflammatory words. Please keep your comments short and to-the-point. THANKS.