Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Did you know that our feet have a similar potential for mobility as our hands do?
Our feet (and hands) have both motor nerves, and sensory nerves. Motor nerves carry messages from the brain to your body parts and tell them to move, while sensory nerves carry information from the environment (such as heat, cold, and texture). While the job requirements differ between our hands and feet, our feet may not be living up to their full movement potential. This is relevant because so many people suffer from foot stiffness or sensitivity which can affect the ability to dance, run, walk, be barefoot or can make it difficult to find a pair of shoes that feel comfortable.
And although wearing shoes is the norm in our culture, and footwear is required in order to protect us from hard, sharp surfaces and the cold, in wearing rigid and hard soled shoes, we may have also been limiting the amount of movement that our feet potentially have.
When we compare the amount of movement we ask of our feet, compared to our hands, it makes sense that we don’t have the same amount of dexterity in our feet as we do in our hands. After all, if you had worn mittens on your hands your whole life (as we do when wearing shoes the majority of the time), you wouldn’t have developed the dexterity and fine motor skills you have with your hands. It’s a classic example of not using it and losing it. The good news is that you can train your feet become more mobile, if you want to, all it takes is a little practice.
Artist Peter Longstaff, a painter who was born with no arms.
If you have been wanting to improve the mobility of your feet, to feel more comfortable walking around barefoot, or are considering transitioning to a more flexible (or minimalist) type of footwear, you may want to try the following exercises:
Part 1: Toe Spread
You can do this actively by standing or sitting barefoot. Spread your toes as far apart as you can and hold for 3 seconds, then slowly bring your toes back together and relax the feet for 3 seconds. Repeat about 5 times. Observe to see whether your toes spread evenly between each other and on each foot.
Happy Feet socks (also sold on Amazon). (Note: I am in no way affiliated with Happy Feet, I simply am a fan and have been wearing and recommending these socks as I find them to be beneficial.)
Part 2: Toe Lifts
Standing or sitting barefoot, with your feet flat on the ground, lift one toe at a time while keeping the rest of the toes on the floor, beginning with the big toe and make your way through the rest of the toes all the way to the littlest piggy. Don’t worry if it feels difficult to connect your mind to your toes – it’s normal if this feels difficult and even silly! Regardless of what your toe movements look like, keep practicing connecting your mind to the individual toe lifts. This is a motor skill that, if you haven’t practiced before, may take time to perfect.
Lift the big toe by itself, then the second toe, followed by the third toe… etc.
Tip: If you’re finding this challenging, try holding the other toes down with your hand to give your body some feedback, and with practice, you will be able to isolate each toe a little more easily.