FOOT, ANKLE, AND HIP FUNCTION PART 4
Stop Putting Blind Folds on Your Feet
Feet have more nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of the body. Those nerve endings are there for many reasons, such as to control the movement of the 33 joints and 4 layers of muscles, as well as for sensation. In other words, they are there to relay information from the environment you are moving in and on. This means your feet are a sensory tool, just like your hands, eyes, nose, taste buds, etc.
There is a saying in the realm of biology: if you don’t use it you will lose it. We all know this is true for muscles and bone. It is the reason we take the time to exercise. We ensure muscles and bones don’t atrophy. This is also true for the brain. The brain has the ability to grow in size and neuronal connections if it is stimulated and used regularly. This is called neuroplasticity.
This is an important reason why movement of your body is so important, not only for your physical health but for your mental health as well. There is an area of the brain called the homunculus which has two divisions: the motor and sensory divisions.
Your entire body is connected to the homunculus, including your feet. The area of the homunculus that corresponds to your feet will grow and develop connections, or shrink and atrophy based on how much or little you use your feet. This is why it is so important to include a huge variety of movement that moves and stimulates every part of your body from your head to your toes.
An example to further understand this is riding a bike. A bike is a great way to exercise, but does not move all parts, muscles, joints, tissues of your body. Your legs and heart are working hard but your foot joints and muscles are still sedentary. Your upper body is lacking movement and range of motion through those joints as well. This means parts of the brain are not being stimulated and growing if cycling is your only form of exercise.
A person would need to incorporate other forms of movement, such as taking your shoes off and traversing varied surfaces of textures, shapes, temperatures, and hardness. This would stimulate those dormant areas of the brain. Think of it like blind folding a child for their entire life. Would their eyesight and the connected brain tissue develop properly if they never get to see light, color, and the 3- dimensional world? So why would we blindfold our feet and inhibit their motor and sensory development?
At the other end of the spectrum is constant stimulation/stress. This is also not a good thing. Your biology needs breaks, rest, or changes in stimulus/stress in order to recover, repair, and adapt to the previous stimulus/stress you were just exposed to. If you exercise too much and too hard without enough recovery time, your joints, muscles and tendons will get inflamed and break down, resulting in an injury. You may also become over trained, and suffer extreme fatigue and get sick.
When we look at consistent neural stimulation/stress, we find that nerves will shut off, or become desensitized if they are continually stimulated with the same sensation. An example of this is cooking fish or anything with a strong odour in your house. As long as you stay in the house the smell eventually lessens or even disappears. But then if you leave the house for a period of time and then come back you will be able to smell the odour again. This is because of the constant stimulation of the olfactory nerve (nerve that senses odour) becomes resistant to the stimulus over time. When you remove the stimulus by leaving the house, the nerve has a chance to re-sensitize. When you arrive back home, the nerve is ready to relay that stimulus again.
For the large majority of your life, you have put your feet into tight fitting socks and shoes that hold your foot in the same position. Your feet are only exposed to the limited sensations of being squeezed by socks and shoes, heel elevated, and arch supported. Therefore there is no need for the foot to maintain its sensitivity, function or its ability to relay information. There is no reason for your foot to get stronger, or function better.
This is why foot massages or going to the beach and walking in the sand feels so good. The foot finally gets a chance to move, and twist, and feel all kinds of different sensations, different temperatures etc. Movement and sensation also brings blood flow. If you are always complaining of cold feet, get your feet out of supportive shoes and get them moving.
By slowly increasing the amount of time that you expose your feet to new movement and sensations you will start to reestablish the neural connections with your brain and will gain improvements in balance, mobility, strength, coordination, stability, and overall health and wellbeing.
So let's stop putting blindfolds on our feet and start taking some time each day to rediscover all the amazing sensations of the earth outside in nature.