The foot has thousands of proprioceptors in it that can affect the way the entire leg moves, potentially causing life long ankle, knee, and hip pains. What is a proprioceptor? It’s a sensory receptor complex that receives stimuli from within the body, especially as related to balance (paraphrased from probably Webster’s). We come into the world ready to experience through sensation the environment around us. These sensations are integral to our survival. A simple example is that if we don’t remember that the stove gets hot, we get burned. Easy enough, right?
The proprioceptors in our feet serve us in much the same way. If we don’t allow our feet to move and rotate as they are naturally meant to, our joints burn out. that’s right, we get burned. As a former soccer and hockey player, I can see the stark contrast in the way the equipment affected my foot and ankle health, and ultimately led to the compounding of my hip problems. Playing soccer I had sprained ankles from time to time as I’d reckon every young boy does, but always managed to bounce back because I would spend my time at home barefoot. This didn’t change at all when I played hockey.
My skates were so damn uncomfortable because I did what the pros did, wore them 2 sizes small without socks to maximize blade control (this is beyond the scope of the article so with no further explanation I say this was stupid– don’t believe everything you read on the internet). When I’d take off my skates my feet would be about a half inch narrower than they were when they went in. I’d go home and stay barefoot to allow my feet to decompress, but this was also high school and I had to wear actual shoes every day because of rules or whatever (this too, for me, was stupid). You see, soccer cleats are nothing but a sheet of leather and a super hard sole with spikes on it. They don’t cover the ankle, have very little arch support, and they’re almost impossible to lace up in any fashion to impinge natural foot motion. My ice skates were literally heated and pressure formed to my foot to completely restrict any motion. The shoes I wore to school didn’t go to that extreme but did restrict the fluidic motion of the bones in the foot to some degree. This too is wrong.
It’s comparable to wearing someone’s prescription glasses longer than a few minutes. Your eyes will adjust and, depending on how long you wore them, may never go back to normal. The same can be said about cushy running shoes and booted sports. The muscles that are inevitably restricted or poorly recruited will atrophy, leading to imbalances and pain in the knees and hips first, and if improperly attended to, eventually the shoulders, neck, and jaw. When I work with young athletes now, I stress the importance of keeping the freedom of motion in the foot and ankle. It is imperative to have a solid foundation for building a successful athlete.
For those of you that are reading this and saying “well I’m an old athlete, what can I do?” don’t worry, you may not be completely ruined! There are ways to free the restrictions in the fascia that cause the muscles and bones to eventually lead to a repetitive injury cycle. Now we reach the point where the ego says, “yeah, but I just want to look good.” I get it and that’s completely fine, but this brings us back to the proprioceptors in the foot. If your foot — the foundation of strength — senses instability, then the power available to the rest of your body for all those sexy vanity lifts will be limited– in short, you won’t look *that* good. Pay attention to your feet and the rest of your body will thank you. It’s not sexy, but it works.