As important as they are to our well-being, our feet are also woefully neglected when it comes to taking care of our bodies as a whole. We wear socks or stockings and shoes much of the day. We ignore them and abuse them, and yet when our feet ache, it seems that our whole body suffers.
The Anatomy of Feet
The human foot consists of 26 bones, 33 joints, 36 muscles and 56 ligaments, and more than 7,000 nerve endings. The average person will walk between 79,000 and 100,000 miles in a lifetime, more than enough steps to circle the earth three times. Each day our feet withstand the pressure of our full body weight for hours on end.
What We Do To Our Feet
It may seem that the worst torture women have had applied to their feet is Chinese foot binding. Starting in the 16th century, women subjected themselves to this disabling custom and only stopped when it was officially outlawed by the government in 1949. Despite the many physical problems caused by this custom, women continued to have the bones in their feet broken and bound in order to achieve what was called a Lotus Foot. In the 19th century it is estimated that 40-50 percent of Chinese women had bound feet. In the upper classes, the numbers were close to 100 percent. Bound feet were a sign of wealth and prosperity as well as a symbol indicating that one had reached a high enough social status so as to not have to perform manual labor. Women who had bound feet walked with what was referred to as a Lotus Gait, thought to be erotic and sensual, even though it caused great discomfort. Those who did not have bound feet tried to emulate this walk by creating a type of shoe that caused them to walk in a similar way. In addition to pain, bound feet caused many other problems including severe ingrown toenails, fungal infections, gangrene, infected toes (which might have to be removed) and even septic shock, resulting in death. Poor balance caused women to fall and break bones as well as cause problems with the spine.
But in today’s world we are smarter and better educated about foot health, right? No longer do women bind their feet to look richer, sexier or more desirable. Then why is it that women have the most complaints about foot problems, more bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes and ankle pain than men? It may not be called foot-binding and it may not be as extreme, but women are still forcing their feet into shoes that are too narrow and teetering on heels that are too high in order to be more attractive, to have a taller, slimmer look. The result is more pain as a result of muscle strain, bone deformity and poor posture. Shoes have changed from something to protect your feet from dangers lurking on the ground, to being more of a fashion statement, no matter what the cost.
Choosing the Correct Shoes
The problems caused by wearing ill-fitting, unstable shoes can be easily remedied by selecting and wearing shoes that fit properly and offer support as well as stability.
- One important suggestion is to choose a shoe that fits on your foot, rather than picking out a shoe by the size marked. Shoe sizes can vary greatly by brand and style.
- The shoe should conform to the shape of your foot.
- Try on shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are at their largest size.
- Walk in the shoe to make sure it fits comfortably and offers support.
- Have your feet measured regularly. Their size may change as you grow older as well as when you gain or lose weight.
What Can a Massage Therapist Do?
Offering foot massage to your clients can be a way of enhancing a full-body massage or it can be a separate bodywork offering. In these times of economic stress some people may opt for a lesser cost service that gives them a similar sense of relaxation. This can be achieved through foot massage. Another service you can offer to your clients is a foot bath prior to getting their massage. This could be a simple soak in Epsom salts, a slightly more luxurious treatment using special salts and essential oils or the newly popular ionization detoxifying foot bath. All these soaks can be followed by a relaxing foot massage using reflexology or other foot massage techniques.
Foot massage helps the whole person. By massaging the feet you are encouraging better blood flow and stimulating nerves that, in turn, energizes, balances and nurtures the entire body. Good foot health also encourages better body alignment and support of the spine.
Exercises to Help Strengthen the Feet
There are also several simple exercises you can instruct your clients to do on a regular basis to help strengthen the muscles and improve the structure of the feet.
- While sitting and starting with the foot flat on the ground, raise up the foot as if to stand on the ball of the foot, then on to the toes. Roll the foot forward, and curl the toes under. Hold each position for about five seconds and repeat 10 times.
- To massage the bottom of the foot, roll a golf ball under the ball and arch of the bare foot for about two minutes. This can help to reduce foot cramps as well as with pain from plantar faciitis.
- Place a hand towel on the floor and, using only the toes (curl and release), grip the towel and move it towards you. Repeat this five times. This exercise also helps ease hammertoes, reduces toe cramps and lessens pain in the ball of the foot.
- Put about 20-30 marbles on the floor. Using the toes, pick up one marble at a time and place it in a small bowl or cup. Do this until you have moved all the marbles into the cup.
- Whenever you get a chance, go to a beach and walk barefoot in the sand. This helps to exercise all the muscles in the feet, strengthens the toes and acts as an overall physical conditioner for the feet.
Adding foot massage to your repertoire of services cannot only enhance your practice, but also be of great benefit to your clients who will thank you for putting the spring back in their step!