If a cartoonist drew of picture of the average American at home, you would likely see an outline of someone at their desk hunched over their computer, slumped over on the couch watching tv, or slouching in bed looking at their phone. Bad posture has almost become a ubiquitous cliche in American culture, with many tools and devices touted online and in infomercials to help you reverse it and “get good posture forever.”
One part of the body that often goes under the radar when it comes to posture is feet, but it turns out, they’re a critically important component to body mechanics, alignment, and the way you sit and stand. Why is bad posture such a big deal in the first place? As you may already experience, bad posture can lead to:
- Low back pain
- Shoulder and neck tension
- Diminished respiratory capacity
- Tight, stiff back muscles
- Spine misalignment
- Weakened core muscles
- Pelvic imbalance
- Hip joint pain
- Disc bulges
- Weight gain
Reversing bad posture may not be as simple as sitting up straight, though that is a good place to start. Understanding the role of your feet in balancing your movements, supporting and distributing your weight, as well as powering your mobility plays an important role in adjusting and working towards better overall posture.
Stats on feet
Did you know a quarter of the entirety of the bones in your body can actually be found in your feet?
Magnificently engineered, feet are comprised of 26 bones each, 2 bones in the hindfoot connecting your leg to your heel, 5 bones in the midfoot, and a whopping 19 bones in the forefoot (hello, toes!). With 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and connective tendons per foot as well, your feet make up an integral part of your musculoskeletal system that with even the slightest tear, break, or injury, can throw your entire body off balance.
How do feet control movement
You will potentially take tens of thousands of steps every single week in your lifetime, each one controlled by the ability of your foot to absorb the shock of the impact each time it hits the ground. How does it do this? With the natural inward rolling of the ankle as the heel makes contact with the ground and weight is distributed up through the forefoot. This is call pronation.
If your body mechanics are compromised and your ankle naturally rolls too far inward (overpronation) or even outwards instead (supination), this results in flat feet or high arches which can affect walking, running, and posture. Improper pronation can have mobility-affecting consequences like plantar fasciitis (the inflammation and tearing of the plantar fascia tissue on the bottom of your foot), Achilles tendinitis (inflammation and tearing of achilles tendon down the back of the calf), hip sway, and pelvic imbalance.
Other common foot ailments can affect gait and disrupt proper spine alignment when sitting and standing – things like hammer toe or overlapping toes, bunions, bone spurs, and stone pain when running.
What can you do?
If bad posture follows you everywhere, take a look at your feet and start with these helpful tips and ideas for reversing it for good:
Do the wet test
Step out from a small pool of water onto a brown paper bag to make a clear footprint. Examine your foot prints – if there is almost no visible crescent moon shape (inward curve) and just a complete foot, this indicates you have flat feet or an inward collapsing of your arch. If there is an exaggerated crescent moon shape leaving little but a visible heel and forefoot print, this indicates you have a high arch, which places added stress on the outside of your foot and leg when walking. And if the footprint is a relatively shapely crescent moon shape filled in around the inward curve, you’re in luck, your arch is good and you’re pronating correctly.
Be body aware
Once you have an understanding of your own foot shape, adjust your walking and physical activity accordingly. Be more body aware of your natural inward rolling as you walk, ditch old sneakers or running shoes that aren’t supporting healthy movements, and when sitting down and practicing good posture, keep feet flat to the ground, and avoid crossing your legs or raising your feet up to rest on your toes for extended periods of time.
Did you know you can strength train the muscles and connective tissues in your foot? Some links have been drawn between weakened foot muscles and flat feet. Strengthening those connective tissues that support your foot’s bones and joints might be as simple as practicing picking up pencils or game pieces off the floor with your toes and dropping them in a bucket.
Just like you may wear a rotator cuff brace to stabilize shoulder movements, you can also wear braces and orthotic inserts to steady and support your foot movements. Talk with your doctor or podiatrist about your arch issues or foot pain to see if an ankle brace, arch support, or orthotic insole could adjust your pronation and help with your posture.
Skip the high heels
In fact, skip shoes altogether when you can and try to walk barefoot. High heels specifically throw your body out of whack, pushing your ankles forward and imbalancing your hips and back. They also pinch toes and overtime can lead to bunions and other deformities.
Stretch your feet
Flexible, limber feet can enhance your foot’s own movements be relieving muscle tightness and joint tension that was causing pain or irregular gait. Some yoga poses can aid foot stretching and strengthening, or you can stretch feet simply by rolling them over a small golf ball every day.
Change your chair
Try different desk and chair options, especially for office work. A standing desk that allows you to work on your computer while standing has been shown to help with posture and core strengthening, while stability balls (giant inflatable rubber balls) have been employed in place of basic office chairs for people looking to burn a few extra calories and practice better balance and posture while they work.
Practice good foot care
Take care of your feet by washing and drying them daily, and even massaging them with a good moisturizer (or ask your spouse to!). Invest in proper fitting shoes, exercise regularly, and address foot pain if and when it arises to avoid longer term injuries.
When your hips are balanced and your spine is straightened from strong body mechanics supported by healthy pronation of your feet, your back won’t have to work as hard to stay tall and lengthened. Good posture not only helps prevent chronic back pain, but it can make you look taller, slimmer, and more confident too!