Pathetic Painful Feet | Feldenkrais

feetI received this note from a client of mine this morning:

“I’ve been noticing more flexibility in my ankles; then two nights ago, while awake in the very early morning, “a voice” said “feet are just like hands!”, and I thought…well yes, they are…and if I were walking on my hands, how would they move?

And I pondered that for a while, half-awake.
The next day, my feet reminded me of this episode
and since then have been enjoying pretending that they were hands.”

There are so many directions to go taking off from a simple note like this.

The first is the beauty of night learning. New studies showthat learning is consolidated during sleep. Perhaps more specifically it is moved from short term memory to long term memory. These studies give credence to advice to clients to get a good nights sleep after a lesson.

I have had many nights in which I knew I was learning in my sleep. Many of those most memorable came early in my Feldenkrais experience because it was such a new experience (to learn in my sleep). I relish such nights and I love to hear of them from clients as well.

This client, in her half-awake state pondered, “What if I were walking on my hands, how would they move?” And since then she has been pretending her feet were hands. This is just the kind of curiosity and exploration we find so useful in the Feldenkrais Method. Through this use of attention and imagination, she will indeed find new options for walking.

On another level, we have seen a bit about walking on hands in the news these past months.

There is the story of the people that walk on all fours. The PBS special for that was inspiring. While it was disturbing to see a family of human beings walking on all fours, it was such a testament to human spirit and the drive to make use of what one has to the best of one’s ability. Even more striking was how quickly each member of the family began to improve in their capacity to sit and even stand…yes walk (more or less) on two feet. While the process that was used with the family was not the kind of gentle explorations we tend toward in Feldenkrais, the quickness with which something seemingly impossible became possible was remarkable.

Still what I like most about my client’s note is the half-awake state and where it helped lead her in the days the followed.

Wishing us all sweet learning dreams tonight!

____

This piece first published a couple of years ago.  We are relocating it from one blog to another as it seems relocation worthy!

 

Barefoot Walking Running Part III – Flat Feet Maybe a-OK

ILCMA_BarefeetIt’s true; it is well supported in medical and scientific literature that, in and of themselves, flat feet do not require some kind of treatment. Yet it I suspect it is also true that if you find an adult with flat feet, you will also find an adult that has been given an extra supportive shoe or an orthotic for those flat feet.

A recent New York Times article about orthotics and flat feet recounted the experience of Jason Stillman, a man with flat feet that virtually every medical doctor he has ever seen has tried to treat. Starting in puberty, Stillman was given orthotics to wear all the time. (1)

According to the Mayo Clinic, an individual has flat feet when the arches on the insides of the feet are flattened, allowing the entire soles to touch the floor when standing up. (2) In searching for definitions, this seems to be a fairly common one.

If you have read the first two installments in this series, you probably know by now that I am fairly enamored with Dr. Hoffman’s study of hundreds of pairs of feet in which he compared shoe wearers to life-long barefooters. (3)  In 1905, Dr. Hoffman called into question some of same issues that have been all over the news for the past few years.

In his findings, Hoffman concluded that while low arches (a decreased longitudinal arch) is less common than a medium arch (follow link to see the bones of the foot and a medium arch), it has no bearing on the common diagnosis of “flat foot”.  Stillman, the man who started wearing orthotics in puberty might agree since he has now weaned himself almost entirely from orthotics and uses them only when running.

“Observations on the longitudinal arch of the foot led to the conclusion, contrary to common opinion and teaching, that its height and shape are of little or no value in estimating the usefulness of the foot, and that there is no one type as the normal, but that normal feet present high, medium and low arches. While it is true that the moderately high arch is in preponderance, the very low arch, when present, seems to be no indication of weakness, and in many instances where it was found in the primitive Filipino or African, it was associated with a foot that was strong and flexible.”

He goes on to say that the so called flat foot diagnosis is not dependent on a low arch but “whether there was a transition from an original higher condition with concomitant change in the relationship of the tarsal bones and strain of ligaments and muscles.”  He felt such a transition was rare.

“It is not uncommon to find the same symptoms associated with arches of good height and I have found them associated with an extraordinarily high arch. It is equally as common to find low arches in symptomless feet.”

Arched, flat and flexible – What?!

As you can see in the illustration based on Dr. Hoffman’s research, an adult Bagobo, who had never worn shoes, did have flat feet.

Dr. Benno Nigg, a professor of biomechanics and co-director of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary in Alberta, has always wondered what the big deal about flat feet is.  He views foot arches as an evolutionary remnant for gripping trees. However, study of the hominin foot from the Plio-Pleistocence period suggests that even then there was a great deal of variation in arch development. “Lucy” in particular had flat feet. (4) Research just published last month by Carol Ward and colleagues confirms that Lucy and her kin had a stiff mid-foot that allowed for extensive walking but was not as good as the flexible mid-foot apes use for branch grabbing. (5)

Today’s human foot is an interesting combination of stiffness and flexibility. The stiffness gives us a lever for pushing against the ground, the flexibility provides the shock absorption.

Propulsion and Shock Absorption

Developments in artificial limbs has highlighted the importance of ligaments and tendons as springs for motion against gravity. Springs have the interesting quality of storing energy and delivering explosive power. Prosthetic limb researcher Hugh Herr has done some leading-edge exploration along these lines using his own body as the laboratory. Herr lost his legs below the knee at age 17. Since then he has systematically worked to bring himself back to normal function. At MIT, he has honed in on the important role of tendons and their spring-like fibers. “The body uses springs to reduce the work the muscles have to do. The human leg is filled with them, and there is this elaborate energetic flow. Energy is constantly being shuffled from tendon to tendon to tendon.” (2)

Herr has been using motors to feed energy into springs so that the spring can release pent-up energy at once, allowing the prosthetic foot to propel off the ground like a normal human foot. Herr is himself now running up to four miles a day using his own technology.

Of course, all these spring-like tendons work together. They are continually sending information up the spinal cord to the brain, and the brain is sending instructions back down. All along the chain, an intricate coordinated response is being formulated moment to moment.

How does this relate to flat feet? As Dr. Nigg in 2011 indicates, and as Dr. Hoffman wrote in 1905, flat feet are not necessarily a problem.

An Integral Human Gait™ View

From our Integral Human Gait™ theory perspective, the “flat foot” is a bit misleading. A low arch does not inhibit the springs on the tendons of the lower extremity from working efficiently. I have seen a number of clients with high arches whose tendons have lost their spring.

From a somatic perspective, the image we have of our body matters. If you would like to improve your walk, try thinking of your feet and lower legs as containing springs. Simply shifting your idea can make a huge difference. For the therapist or somatic educator working with a person who has lost the spring in the longitudinal arch of the foot, try playing with dynamic alignment (not static) and engage the client in press/release motions along the entire chain, or at least the chain of the foot to the gluteal muscles.  Include in your thoughts and plans for improvement not only the muscles and tendons but the bony arch of the foot through the tibia, fibula, and even how the head of the femur seats itself in the hip socket, noting its response to pressure or availability of response to a downward force.

Supporting a flat foot with a hard arch support is likely to have the effect of further solidifying the image that the arch is rigid and instead of flexible and responsive.

There is a classic Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® lesson that can be used to awaken the flexible arch of the foot.

We have made an abbreviated version available MP3 audio available at no charge:

Mapping The Arch of the Foot

It is one of the key exercises we use in our Gait for Wild Human Potential workshop. Take a listen. You will likely be surprised at by the lesson.

Cynthia Allen is Feldenkrais Practitioner and Bones for Life Teacher/Trainer. She is co-creator of the Integral Human Gait(tm) Theory and teacher of Gait for Wild Human Potential workshops.

Read Part I and Part II of this series.

 

References

(1) Kolata, G. (2011, January 18). Close Look at Orthotics Raises a Welter of DoubtsThe New York Times, p. D5.

(2) Mayo Clinic Staff (2010). Flatfeet. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/flatfeet/DS00449 accessed 2/06/11

(3)  Hoffman, P. (1905). Conclusions drawn from a comparative study of the feet of barefooted and shoe-wearing peoples, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 2 (3), 105-136.

(4) DeSilva, J. M., & Throckmorton, Z. J. (2010). Lucy’s Flat Feet: The Relationship between the Ankle and Rearfoot Arching in Early HomininsPLoS ONE 5 (12). Retrieved from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0014432

(5) University of Missouri-Columbia (2011, February 10). Foot bone suggests Lucy’s kin had arched foot, for walkingScienceDaily. Retrieved February 20, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/02/110210141213.htm

(6) Piore, A. (2010, November) The Bionic ManDiscover,31(9), 52-57

ILCMA_Barefeet

Bones for Life – because there is no pill for posture

by Cynthia M. Allen  (first published at Integrative Learning Center; used by permission)

CarolMontgomerAfricanWaterCarrierThis has become a favorite phrase in the Bones for Life community. And why not? Look at the apparent ease with which the woman at left carries her load.Of course, it isn’t easy, yet studies show Luo and Kikuyu women are supremely well organized, even outperforming male U.S. soldiers with loaded rucksacks. She can carry up to 20% of her body weight on her head before she begins to need more oxygen or burn additional calories.

Carrying a Load for Free. Just to put this in context, if you weigh 150 pounds, this means you would be carrying 30 pounds. Can you imagine balancing even 20 pounds on your head and, say, walking around the block? Much less without needing additional air? Scientists call the capacity to carry this weight without needing more air “carrying for free.” In fact, she may add to her load up to 50% or more of her body weight and head into town. While her “free energy” zone has been passed, she will still carry her load at a lower metabolic cost to herself than to you or even to our beloved Army guys and gals.

skeletonWalk Like an Upside-Down Pendulum. In the 1990s gait researchers mapped the movement of the human center of mass in space and discovered the trajectory is like that of an upside-down pendulum swinging. Instead of a curve down, it curves upward with the crest being at the point when you are completely balanced on one foot and the other foot has lifted away from the ground and is swinging forward.

Rhythm Matters. In the change over between steps, most of us will lose height faster than we gain speed with a few millisecond lurch. But loaded African women pause less in the middle of the step and in fact some women do not pause at all. Another way to say it might be that the rhythm of the walk is uninterrupted.
Unfortunately we don’t have access to any video to include in this newsletter. But the grace and ease of the live motion is truly stunning to see. The beauty of such an efficient load bearing walk caught the attention of Ruthy Alon some years ago along with two other factoids of the time: West African women had low fracture rates (statistics still support the low fracture rates–see table below) and low bone densities (these studies need to be validated).

2004 Report from the World Health Organization Estimated percentage of osteoporotic fractures,in men and women aged 50 years or older, by region:

Region Percentage
Africa .8
Americas 15.7
Southeast Asia 17.4
Europe 34.8
Eastern Mediterranean 2.9
Western Pacific 28.6

 

The reason Africans have significantly lower fracture rates than Americans is likely multi-variant. Climate, diet, genes, bone geometry, daily movement requirements and movement patterns are all possible, even likely,contributors. In Bones for Life® we take the position that it sure couldn’t hurt to be more active in our daily life and to move in the direction of a free energy gait pattern. Alon studied the alignment and the gait of African women, and created movement exercises in her Bones for Life® program that allow us to incorporate aspects of this unique organization as our bodies find it useful. When skeletal alignment, stability and flexibility in the curves of spine, and rhythm improve, there is less loss of energy between steps. That is, the peak moment of rest in the pendulum swing is more fully converted back into energy. You are no longer falling as you walk but remaining tall and balanced.

A Bones for Life® class is for anyone. Take it to walk with elegance and ease. Take it to improve bones and joint health. Take it Because There is No Pill for Posture.

 

Barefoot Running Part II – Graphic Evidence

One would think a foot is a foot. But not so. If you had never worn shoes in your life, your own foot might be unrecognizable to you because it certainly wouldn’t look like the foot you use today.

20179356-ILCMA Feet Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1905 an orthopedist wrote an article entitled “Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing People”.

Using photos from his paper as a reference, we are providing two sketches. The sketch A shows the foot of a man who had been wearing the classic dress shoe of his time. When comparing the shape of his shoe to the shape of his foot, we can see that the shoe itself became a kind of mold. (Hoffman)

Ready for a visually breathtaking comparison to someone who had never worn shoes and lived close to the earth? Sketch B illustrates the foot a Bagobo tribesman who had never worn shoes.

The first response of a westernized shoe wearer might be “Ugh–how primitive.” But that would be the point. Feet were designed to be in connection with the earth. Nowhere else in the human body will you find 26 bones, 33 joints and myriads of muscles, tendons and ligaments designed to marvelously adapt to a changing terrain under a load.

In Part I: The Incredible Human Foot of this series, we delved into the evolution of the human need (perceived or otherwise) for footwear. This article continues a bit further along these lines. The difference between a more “original model” foot that is shaped by its direct contact with the earth and a foot that bears the wear and tear of a mold causes us to consider when and how we shoe our ourselves and our children.

“Shoes are the problem. No matter what type of shoe. Shoes are bad for you.” (Sternbergh)

This quote rather shocked me when I read it a few years ago because it was made by Galahad Clark, a member of the Clark family long known for creating comfortable shoes and founder of his own successful shoe company, Terra Planna. Clark was one of the first on the scene with the natural shoe. When a team that included an Alexander Technique teacher proposed a shoe that was micro thin, Clark began production.

It seems like Hoffman, the 1905 orthopedist, already knew what we are discovering: there are pluses and minuses to covering the foot.

If you read Part I, you already know my position is not either/or but both. Yet, I am inclined to believe that most of us (myself included) wear shoes far more of the day than is helpful for a healthy skeletal system and perhaps even mental state.

How much of the day do you wear shoes or go barefoot? What are your thoughts on children and shoes? If you are a runner, have you been exploring the barefoot running possibilities? We enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Part III?  Coming in a few days.

By the way, the 1905 article is well worth reading.  It takes a while to load but follow the reference below if more interests you. It also contains more graphic evidence through pictures.

____________________Cynthia Allen is a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Bones for Life Teacher/Trainer. She is co-creator of the Integral Human Gait Theory and teacher of Gait for Wild Human Potential workshops. ___________________

 

Read Part I and Part III of this series.

 

References

Hoffman, P. (1905). Conclusions drawn from a comparative study of the feet of barefooted and shoe-wearing peoples, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 2 (3), 105-136.

Sternbergh, A. (2008, April 21) You walk wrong.

Retrieved 01/15/10 from http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/.

 

The Elegant Squat | Free Video

by Cynthia M. Allen, GCFP, BFLT/T

If you think sitting on a toilet or at a desk or watching TV is a luxury, think again. Squatting may be a human’s friend.

“Did I hear you right?!”

You sure did. That pelvic floor of yours is missing nature’s natural workout. But there is more…squatting maybe helping with bone density. The action of getting up and down is one if the most intense anti-gravity movements a human can do. When your brain feels the required power to get you up and down, it builds muscle which exert tension on the bones of the leg and pelvis and lower back. A entire cascade of chemical messages respond to say, “Hey this person is serious about needing his bones. Let’s make sure he has good ones.”

Edward Tanner, author of “Our Own Devices — The Past and Future of Body Technology” shares:

“The spread of chair-sitting may reflect world prosperity, but it also may be hazardous to our health. Chair-level societies have higher rates of varicose veins; sitting to defecate seems to promote hemorrhoids. Japanese children who have grown up kneeling on tatami mats and using traditional squat toilets have higher thighbone densities than others, and Japan has half the thighbone fractures seen in Western countries.

And although the Japanese have lower calcium intake and lower bone density than Westerners, they experience only 40 percent the rate of American hip fracture.

Some Japanese scientists believe that frequent kneeling and rising of the older generation of Japanese along with exercise of the pelvic musculature in traditional toilets, have developed both strength and agility that persist in old age…”

In Bones for Life, we gradually and safely restore the capacity to squat. From getting up and down from the floor to simply rising from the toilet or getting out of a low riding car, the fundamentals of an elegant squat are needed. We also have a series of lessons for the pelvic floor. We have ways to help virtually anyone improve their health in this area.

Moshe Feldenkrais said one cure for chronic constipation was squatting for elimination. It is interesting how us humans sometimes evolve against nature’s patterns. However having the experience of traveling to countries where even public toilets require squatting, I agree this would help a great many Americans.

From my Feldenkrais perspective, incontinence; erectile dysfunction; groaning while getting up and down; poor elimination; and bad bones are all connected to the elegant squat.


The Squat Song
from Denise Kaufman on Vimeo.

Barefoot Running Part I

BarefootRunningDuring the last couple years, barefoot running has become a hot topic. If you are following social media, you may be seeing tweet after tweet on the topic. In view of my interest in reconnecting individuals to a life-supporting gait or walk, I’ve decided to join the discussion with an attempt to shine an integral light on the subject.

The discussion really revolves around the fact that shoes didn’t come with the original make and model. Obviously, many things in this world are not part of the original human structure. Walking sticks, gloves, bras, and jock straps, like shoes, were invented to support and/or protect the human being. And like most things, there is a time and place for them.

As a somatic educator, I’ve had an interest in the topic for a while now, and especially since the day when I asked a new client with balance problems to remove her shoes for a private Feldenkrais® session. The 80-something-year-old woman began to sob as she told me could not stand without shoes. Her balance—what little of it she had left—would be gone.

I was struck by both the statement and by the palpable fear she had of going without shoes. It is a fear I have witnessed more than a handful of times in the years since this touching moment.  Considering the number of people I see who have deformed, painful feet, it is hard not to ponder why conditions such as bunions, hammer toes and stress fractures are so common. Shoes have long seemed to me to be one of the likely culprits. Of course the waywe walk makes a huge impact, but what we wear also changes the way we walk.

Are shoes a convenience with a bite?
Maybe. In 2009, researchers compared barefoot and shod runners. They found that the knees of the runners in shoes experienced over 36% more impact than the knees of the life-long barefoot runners. (Kerrigan, et al, 2009) Surprisingly, this showed a greater effect than earlier research that found a 20-26% increase in knee torque when walking with high heeled shoes.

Before I jump onto the barefoot- for-all bandwagon, it’s important to note that the creation of shoes began a long time before Nikes came along, and even a long time before Native Americans fashioned moccasins. According to paleoanthropological evidence, shoes came on the scene about 40,000 years ago. See the oldest recovered shoe.

There is even a theory that footwear was sported by the creative Neanderthal. Archeologist Erik Trinkhaus proposes that some Middle Paleolithic feet display changes in the toes consistent with “localized mechanical insulation from ground reaction forces during heel-off and toe-off.” According to Trinkhaus, this means the use of shoes. (Trinkaus, 2005)

The Nukaks, a nomadic Amazonian tribe, left the Colombian jungle in 2006, apparently driven out by drug wars. Among the Nukak’s modern civilization wish list: Pots, pants, shoes, and caps. A young mother, named Bachanede, said, “When you walk in the jungle your feet hurt a lot.”(Forero, 2006)

This seems to fly in the face somewhat of the recent studies which herald the biomechanical benefits of barefoot running. But it leads us back to the age-old truth that the more we grow, the more we know: Either/or answers seldom hold up under scrutiny. We are generally healthier when we sometimes use option A, other times option B, and occasionally option C.

Truly, the engineering of the human foot is literally the basis of the architecture that makes great and massive cathedrals possible. Moreover, because the foot has mobility, spring, and shape changing qualities, it contains characteristics of which architects can only dream. But each time we surround the foot with a structure, we limit its shape changing quality. Yet, the impulse for footwear goes back a tremendously long time, which begs the question, “Why?” Or perhaps the most important question is, “When does protection or support cross the line and become too much, and in what contexts?”

Biological beings are continually remaking their own physical structure according to patterns of use. Thus it seems obvious that what we wear on our feet has an impact on the structure of the foot, and really on the entire human being. For the elderly woman who cried in my office, I am inclined to think of her situation as a foot binding that over time truly limited her options. Previous use of footwear to address her concerns about ankle and knee stability eventually became a chronic solution that also resulted in a whole host of problems, including a real balance challenge with or without shoes.

In my role in coaching others on how to improve their movement, I find again and again that the second most important thing I do is this: to help people explore options, and to help them discover which is the best option for a given situation in a constantly changing world. Compassion for the fchallenge of being human and not knowing is the first.

Cynthia Allen is Feldenkrais(r) Practitioner and Bones for Life(r) Teacher/Trainer. She is co-creator of the Integral Human Gait(tm) Theory and teacher of Gait for Wild Human Potential workshops.

Read Part II and Part III of this series.

 

References

Forero, J. (2006, May 11). Amazonian tribe suddenly leaves jungle home. Retrieved January 11, 2011, from http://www.entheology.org.

Kerrigan, D. C. et al (2009). The effect of running shoes on lower extremity joint torques,PM&R: The journal of injury function, and rehabilitation, 12, 1058-63.

Lieberman, D. E. et al, 28 (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners, Nature, 463 (1), 531-535.

Trinkaus, E. (2005). Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear use. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32(10), 1515-1526.

Posted January 12 2011, 11:29 AM  by Integrative Learning Center

 

by Cynthia M. Allen  (first published at Integrative Learning Center; used by permission)

CarolMontgomerAfricanWaterCarrierThis has become a favorite phrase in the Bones for Life community. And why not? Look at the apparent ease with which the woman at left carries her load.Of course, it isn’t easy, yet studies show Luo and Kikuyu women are supremely well organized, even outperforming male U.S. soldiers with loaded rucksacks. She can carry up to 20% of her body weight on her head before she begins to need more oxygen or burn additional calories.

Carrying a Load for Free. Just to put this in context, if you weigh 150 pounds, this means you would be carrying 30 pounds. Can you imagine balancing even 20 pounds on your head and, say, walking around the block? Much less without needing additional air? Scientists call the capacity to carry this weight without needing more air “carrying for free.” In fact, she may add to her load up to 50% or more of her body weight and head into town. While her “free energy” zone has been passed, she will still carry her load at a lower metabolic cost to herself than to you or even to our beloved Army guys and gals.

skeletonWalk Like an Upside-Down Pendulum. In the 1990s gait researchers mapped the movement of the human center of mass in space and discovered the trajectory is like that of an upside-down pendulum swinging. Instead of a curve down, it curves upward with the crest being at the point when you are completely balanced on one foot and the other foot has lifted away from the ground and is swinging forward.

Rhythm Matters. In the change over between steps, most of us will lose height faster than we gain speed with a few millisecond lurch. But loaded African women pause less in the middle of the step and in fact some women do not pause at all. Another way to say it might be that the rhythm of the walk is uninterrupted.
Unfortunately we don’t have access to any video to include in this newsletter. But the grace and ease of the live motion is truly stunning to see. The beauty of such an efficient load bearing walk caught the attention of Ruthy Alon some years ago along with two other factoids of the time: West African women had low fracture rates (statistics still support the low fracture rates–see table below) and low bone densities (these studies need to be validated).

2004 Report from the World Health Organization Estimated percentage of osteoporotic fractures,in men and women aged 50 years or older, by region:

Region Percentage
Africa .8
Americas 15.7
Southeast Asia 17.4
Europe 34.8
Eastern Mediterranean 2.9
Western Pacific 28.6

 

The reason Africans have significantly lower fracture rates than Americans is likely multi-variant. Climate, diet, genes, bone geometry, daily movement requirements and movement patterns are all possible, even likely,contributors. In Bones for Life® we take the position that it sure couldn’t hurt to be more active in our daily life and to move in the direction of a free energy gait pattern. Alon studied the alignment and the gait of African women, and created movement exercises in her Bones for Life® program that allow us to incorporate aspects of this unique organization as our bodies find it useful. When skeletal alignment, stability and flexibility in the curves of spine, and rhythm improve, there is less loss of energy between steps. That is, the peak moment of rest in the pendulum swing is more fully converted back into energy. You are no longer falling as you walk but remaining tall and balanced.

A Bones for Life® class is for anyone. Take it to walk with elegance and ease. Take it to improve bones and joint health. Take it Because There is No Pill for Posture.