GTP TV: Episode 3 – Your feet need some attention!

How are you doing?

Last week, I mentioned that we’re going to do a “bottoms up” theme, here. Today is episode one of the theme. It’s episode three of Goalie Training Pro TV!

We’re going to start (not with our bottom) but with our feet. It’s actually really cool, because if you think of it, your feet are your interface with the eye surface. They’re the only thing that really is in contact with something that’s in contact with the ice, obviously when you’re on your skates. When you’re on your knees, not so much.

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That’s really, really important, and it also highlights the importance of having proper fitting skates. I’m not going to talk about proper fitting skates, because that’s not my zone of genius, but you want to make sure that you’re getting the best fitting skates that you can afford. Also, because you guys neglect them, your feet are gnarly, they don’t function the way they should, it is simply not cool. So today we’re going to chat about that.

Let’s look at this thing. I made some little visual aids so maybe pull up some diagrams of the foot bones & muscles. You should be in awe of it. It has 26 bones, 33 joints. If you think of it, the whole human body only has 206 bones, and 26 of them are in one of your feet. That’s impressive. 52 of the 206 bones in your whole body are in your pieds (which is French for feet).

But, I also want you to look at the structure of it. Look at your big calcaneus, your heel bone. Look at how it’s sort of jigsaw puzzle like, especially the cuneiforms, and the navicular, and the cuboid. Really marvel at it. It is such a complex structure. If you are going to make that out of wood or plastic, it would take forever.

So let’s chat a little bit about the structure and the function. Look at your achilles tendon. My achilles tendon comes in, and it ties into that big calcaneus, but it’s also a part of my planter fascia, which is on the undersurface of my foot. If I pull my toes back I can feel both sides of my planter fascia on the bottom of my foot. It’s just a very, very stiff connective tissue band.

Then, we have all the muscles of the feet. If you pull up a diagram of the foot muscles you can see the achilles coming down the back, tying into the calcaneus. The muscles in the front of your shin and your lower leg, those are the muscles that actually extend your toes, that lift your toes up, and they’re all in the lower compartment of your leg, or the front compartment of your leg, and then it sort of runs through tendons out to your toes, that actually do the movement.

Imagine if we had big muscles in the top of our feet. Our feet would be huge, like hobbit feet. And then, we have a connective tissue band that sort of holds down those tendons. Again, when I pull my toes up, I don’t have tendons that go right straight across. They go underneath that band, and then the tendons go out to my toes, and then they pick my toes up, but those muscles are actually up in here. Again, totally crazy, amazing.

Then, if we look at the bottom part of your foot, same thing, but we have more muscles in the bottom of our foot. But, we have abductors, adductors, so we have muscles that pull our toes apart, that squish our toes together, that flex our toes and then extend our toes, and even our big toe has its own set of muscles.

The four smaller toes kind of share muscles. It’s pretty hard to just, “I’m just going to bend my middle toe.” The other ones are going to go with it, but our big toe, it’s got its own. There is a muscle on the outside that pulls your big toe out. Some of you probably didn’t even know you could pull your toes apart, or squish them together, that you had muscles to do that.

Can you spread your toes? Can you make space between all of your toes? I bet some of you can’t even spread your toes at all.

Can you lift just your small toes? Now, can you lift just your big toe? I have to hold my other toes down just to lift my big toe. My big toe can flex all the way up, and if I lift it with all of them, I get it pretty good, but if I just try to lift it on its own, not bad. I just get that little wee bit. And then, lifting your little toes together is a little bit easier.

Let’s talk a bit about mobility now.

You should have mobility in your foot. And we treat our feet badly. We cram them in shoes, sometimes we cram them in shoes that are too small. If we’re a female, or a dude, I guess, and we wear shoes that have a heel, that is not really great for our foot, because it puts our achilles in a shortened position chronically, and then that will put more attention on that whole connective tissue chain, on your calf, on your planter fascia.

We wear shoes that really support our feet, so that the muscles don’t have to do anything. People always ask me a lot about, “Oh, what’s with those shoes? Why do you wear those shoes?” (FiveFinger shoes or toe shoes). Well, I wear those shoes because I’m on my feet a lot throughout the day, and I would like my feet to get the advantage of that. I’d like my feet to be strong, and have stamina, and sort of look after themselves.

I do not run in those shoes. I really just want my feet to get some stimulus, and my arches to learn to support my feet. Like if I had a brace that carried my arm around all day long, the muscles in my shoulder would be really, really weak, and not be doing their job.

So I want you to take the time to sort of work on those actions, and see what you can do. But then, mobility wise, also, when we have our feet always in shoes, and skates, it’ll get a little rigid. Your foot should move pretty nicely. If I grab my foot just below my toes, I should be able to wiggle it around. So I’m getting on the tarsals and I’m just wiggling up and down. I’m kind of stabilizing one, mobilizing the other one up and down. Even I’m a little bit stiff in there, but you should have good mobility in there.

Your toes should have pretty good mobility. You should be able to get that big toe extended nicely with your hands, and it shouldn’t be painful for you. Sometimes you get people who sit, like try to get them to sit on their knees with their feet tucked under them and they find that really, really painful on their toes. That’s a range that you should have.

Again, you can work on that manually just working on getting that extension, on getting that good flexion going. Or you can do it sort of assisted, kind of using your body to give it a little bit of over pressure.

And then the arch, we definitely want to work the arch. And I think one of the best ways is to use a lacrosse ball, or a golf ball, to just get in there. Again, to the point where it’s mildly uncomfortable but not painful, and just rolling around on that arch to keep that tissue nice and supple. There are, and I don’t remember the numbers, but there are tons and tons of sensory receptors in the bottom of your feet that feed back information to your brain about the position of your feet and that also gives information about the position of your body.

Thinking, “OK, my foot is in this position, my knee is in this position,” and your brain’s like, “Oh, OK. This is how we’re going to stabilize you.” So you want to keep that tissue active and dynamic, and give it some stimulus. Not only does that give it a nice massage, it also gives it a little bit of stimulus. You know, just like when you get a massage, you’re like, “Oh, that feels good.” You want to get that.

Then, strengthening your feet. Here’s another little one that’s pretty tough. Can you make an arch without turning on your outside muscles, and without clawing your toes? If I claw my toes, I can make my arch bigger, but can I just draw up my arch a little bit without clawing my toes? It’s very hard to see.

What I’m thinking of conceptually is trying to bring a point in the ball of my foot towards a point in my heel, and you’ll feel like, “Well, that feels like telling me to wiggle my ears. I just can’t do it.” But you have to practice. Sometimes you can cheat a little with your toes, but then try not to. You might find that your feet cramp when you do that.

The other one’s, practice spreading your toes. How much can you spread your toes apart? I do that if we’re watching TV, or something, in my bare feet, I’ll just practice spreading my toes. Lifting your toes, lifting just your big toe, lifting just your little toes.

Another one we use a lot is a towel crunch. Strengthening those muscles in your feet. We start with the towel on the group and your toes on the edge. And then you just crunch the towel up using your toes. I can crunch a lot more towel on my right than I can on my left. I don’t have quite the same mobility. When it gets bunched up like that, I just straighten it out again.

I would just spend a minute on one or two of these exercises, just getting your feet moving nicely.

You should be able to splay your toes, lift just your big toe, lift just your little toes, and crunch that towel pretty well. Please don’t discount this. Use it as part of your dynamic warmup, use it as part of your mobility, use it when you’re resting between sets at the gym. They’re really important. Even if you just did one set for about a minute, perfect. Great start.

Let’s talk a little bit about injuries, and then I’m going to let you go. That’ll be the end of the episode.

One that springs to mind is planter fasciitis, which is an irritation of the fascia on the bottom of your foot. You’ll know you have it because it’ll be really painful to step down. A lot of times, it’s worse first thing in the morning.

Sometimes you’ll describe it as, does it almost feel like there’s two pieces of leather in the bottom part of your foot that are kind of tight, or rubbing against each other? Although not always, a lot of times you’ll feel it in front of your heel, but you can feel it different places, too.

It’s an irritation of that planter fascia. It may or may not be the planter fascia’s fault, it’s just what’s taking the brunt of it. You might be getting that because your foot is stiff, you might be getting that because your achilles or your calves are stiff because you wear shoes with a heel. There are lots of reasons you could … because you externally rotate at your hip, and that changes your foot mechanic. There are a lot of reasons you could get it, but it’s uncomfortable.

I think one of the best things you can do for it is aggressively rest it. This is just anecdotal, but I had it once, and it was weird, I aggressively rested it, didn’t run, and it just went away, and it never came back. But get it checked out and try to figure out, “Hey, why am I getting that?” I think some of these things, rolling on the ball, towel crunches, can help reduce the risk, but again, that could be coming from the mechanics at your hip, or something else like that.

The other one is, sometimes it’ll be just a pinch in your foot. When you go to walk and you flex your foot, it’s like, “Ow.” It just pinches you, and often it comes out of nowhere, you didn’t do anything to deserve it, it’s just like, “Why does it feel like that?”

Sometimes, because that forefoot is such a little jigsaw puzzle, sometimes the cuboid, or the navicular will get a little bit out of place. You can see how they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. They’re not uniform shaped bones. They can get a little bit out of shape, and then it does jam. What you’re feeling is, instead of that joint gliding nicely, now it’s butting into each other, and it doesn’t feel good at all.

Now, sometimes, you’ll go to sleep, and you’ll wake up in the morning and it’s all better, and it’s sort of set itself back. Sometimes, not so much, and then people think, “Well, I didn’t do anything, so nothing must be wrong, because I didn’t do anything to make my foot hurt, although my foot hurts,” which is sort of the wrong way to think about it, as you can probably be like, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Sometimes you need to get a physiotherapist, or an athletic therapist, someone who knows how to manipulate that back into place, and they’ll be able to do it, “Pachoom,” and you’ll be like, “Perfect. I’m good to go.” If you keep walking around on it, it can get stuck out, and you can maybe even develop laxity in some of the ligaments that normally hold it in place, and it can keep coming out from time to time, which turns into a bit of a pain.

So if you’re getting that pinching, I wouldn’t like, “Oh, my God, I have a pinch in my foot. I better go to the physiotherapist,” but if it’s a couple days, and it is that kind of pinchy pain in your forefoot, then get it checked out, get it put back in, and then hopefully it isn’t going to be an issue going forward.

Next week’s episode, continuing on our “bottom up” theme, next week’s episode is just going to be the ankle. So, moving up from the ankle, we’re going to talk about why a lack of ankle mobility can give you a sore back and decrease your power. We’re going to talk also about the high ankle sprain, and what it is, and how to help come back from it as quickly as possible, the way it’s one of those not so good.

I will see you next time!!