Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Barefoot: Can Fallen Arches Be Rehabilitated?

Barefoot running is something I have recently become interested in.  I suppose it was only a matter of time since I lean toward 'old ways of living'. I prefer to call it "Earthy Living".

Nevertheless, over the years I have wondered, why do we all have fallen arches with all of the foot healthcare that goes into our daily lives?  Our feet are protected, coddled, padded, painted, massaged, etc.  Then it came to me... Are shoes like a corset?  Corsets historically left women with barely enough muscle to sit up on their own because the corset took over the job and the core muscles (stomach and back) became lax and eventually could no longer do the job of holding their person upright.  This very thing is referred to in the book, "The Corset - A Cultural History" by Valerie Steele,

"...weaken the back and abdominal muscles resulting in atrophy..."

and

Side Effects of Corsets

"...Abdominal muscle atrophy: Corsets worn extremely tight can cause the body to become dependent on them for support of the torso, allowing the abdominal muscles to waste away from lack of use..."

What if we have done the same to our feet?  What if the very things that were supposed to 'protect' our feet, have actually done damage to them and everything around them? (fallen arches, weak calves)  What if this is the source of so many leg problems today?

Steele's book goes on to state that if atrophy has not been extended too long or too far, it may be possible to rebuild muscle strength and integrity.  Might the same type of philosophy exist for fallen arches and weak calf muscles from walking in an unnatural heel-toe pattern?

It's a hopeful way of thinking. After all, witness the extremely out of shape humans who move on to look fabulous simply by virtue of working multiple muscle groups in their bodies.  And not only do they look fabulous, they are stronger and healthier than in their previously flabby state, even if that flabby state was 'thin'.

And so I decided to try strengthening my feet and all the connecting muscle groups around them by doing some barefoot exercises.  Some information I found on the internet were very helpful regarding retraining one's self to walk or run 'properly'.  I used some of the techniques and found them to have some seeming validity.

Everyone seems to agree that this is something that should be done gradually:

One site explained that a very quick way to learn the pattern of barefoot life is to begin by walking on gravel.  So I did that on the first day.  "Ouch".  I ended up with my arms in the air looking like I was trying to fly somewhere rather than walk.

That said, it certainly did illustrate the type of 'setting down' of the foot that one is more naturally inclined to do without the use of shoes.  It is more of a roll from the outer ball of the foot toward the inner ball of the foot while evenly spreading the weight over the upper 2/3 of the foot.

Here is a pretty good example on Youtube of how the foot should move.

Another site went on to explain that the calf muscles are extremely under-worked after years and years of heel-toe walking.  I found this to be true when I tried my first 2km run the next day on a track. (A track because it will take a good long time for me to be able to run on gravel I think)  The first interesting thing is that, though slower, I could run the whole 2km, and could have run farther very easily.  I do not yet know if this is because I was barefoot (socks only) or because I've reduced my grains to only once a week (popcorn on movie night).  However, either way, I did run the whole distance without stopping to walk at all.  My calves definitely started feeling taxed after the first time around the track.  It wasn't too hard to work through it but I did limit myself only to 2km to prevent over-stressing my gastrocnemius and my soleus (where I am definitely feeling some strain today).

There are two possible benefits from barefooting:  Earthing by Dr. Sinatra and correction of fallen arches (which is my goal).

According to Livestrong.com,

"...Correcting Arch with Ankle Strength
The large gross movement muscles in the ankle can also help fix your arches. Standing calf raises work these muscles. They are done by placing your toes on the edge of a stair or raised surface with your heels hanging down and then lifting yourself up onto your toes. This will make your heels higher than your toes. This movement help to restore the arches of your feet and strengthen the entire foot and ankle complex as well...", 

This is exactly the type of motion one performs naturally when not wearing shoes.

And the Society for Barefoot Living has posted some very intriguing and inspiring study notes that have been published through the ages, of the possibility of correcting fallen arches.

And so I will continue with my experiment as I get both the benefits of a molecular exchange with the earth and nicer looking calf muscles.  I will take before and after photos and post them if there are, in fact, visible changes.

For now, I will say that my starting point measurements, as of 2012-04-04, are:

just under the kneecap: 31cm
widest point of calf:  36cm
10cm above the top of the ankle bone: 27.5cm
ankle bone: 22cm
Description of the back of the lower leg: non-descript.  No apparent muscle visuals even upon flexing.

Can I rehabilitate my fallen arches or are they too atrophied at this point and beyond repair? :queue mystery music here:

7 comments:

Rebecca MacLary said...

There are some GREAT shoes out there that allow you to "walk barefoot" around in public places and on hazardous surfaces without risking injury. One of the best is the Vibram 5-fingers, and you can get them in a few places locally (Novacks in London has a few models) or online. I am going to buy a pair as soon as I have the extra $$.

Kim Spezowka said...

Ooh! Thanks for letting me know where I can go. I had been to a couple of stores in London, to no avail.

A friend of mine in California SWEARS by them. I'd like to buy a pair as soon as I can find the cash for it too. In the meantime, I guess I'll stick with my socks. :D

Kim Spezowka said...

Day 3 after my first barefoot run (2k) - a very slow run at that. My calves are KILLING me! I now have no doubt that shoes have not done my legs any favours... leaving them weak and able to function only as barely needed. Darn food corsets! -.-

My only question is, when to schedule my next run? Maybe today. Tomorrow I have a chiro appointment so I could use that as part of my therapeutic recovery mechanisms.

Maybe only 1k though. ;D

Kim Spezowka said...

Day 4: Picked up some VFFs and went for a very long walk. Still some sore.

Day 5: Ran 1.5k on gravel.

Went to the track to run in socks as I think socks or true bare feet and a smooth track are better at the beginning when still doing so much buildup... and clearly, I have building to do that I didn't even realize.

However track was closed. So I got out my VFFs and did my first gravel run. Interesting: right calf is fine. Left calf is KILLING me.

I know from chiro appt. that I carry more weight on my right side (13 lbs at the time of analysis) which explains why my right side is so much stronger than my left.

Will some of my unforeseen benefits be that of leveling out how I carry my weight, a stronger left side, faster sprint times as I get stronger calves, thinner ankles as my tendons and ligaments strengthen and tighten?

This is a VERY exciting experiment!

Took yesterday off. Will run again today.

Kim Spezowka said...

Ran 2k last night. Sprinted the 5th lap of each k.

Again, easily overcame the feeling of wanting to stop and walk. Diet cleaner? Chiro appts? Barefoot?

Who knows? Too many variables... but those variable are working for me so I'll continue to go with it.

I felt my calves while running but nothing too bad. A bit stiff after (left more than right again) but not bad. This morning, they're completely fine.

Busy weekend. Don't know if I'll get another run in until Monday. I'd like to do the next one in socks only. I meant to last night but forgot my socks and only had my VFFs with me, so ran in those. Not bad for my first track run in them.

I'm still very slow. 7 min per k. Hoping to see improvement as my calves and ankle joints strengthen.

LJ said...

It has been a while since your last post, how did your experiment go? I love to run but since my left arch collapsed I've been afraid to run too far, just standing in once place kills, I'm very interested in this possible barefoot fix

Kim Spezowka said...

My final results were in a stronger leg overall.

It was very interesting.

I don't run for 1/2 the year but this year will not do any shoe running. My results were so much better without shoes that I see no sense in continuing to use them for 'training'.