How your feet work
Most people don’t think much about their feet – we just expect them to be there and work when we need them to. But the feet are the most neglected body part and one of the least understood. Have you ever thought about how your feet work?
The feet are described as “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art”. The purpose of the feet is to move or take us where we need to go. The function of the feet is to also help stabilize you when standing. The feet are flexible structures made up of bones, joints, muscles, and soft tissues that all work together to allow us to stand upright and perform activities like walking, running, and jumping. The human foot and ankle is a strong, mechanical structure that contains 52 bones – a quarter of all the bones in the body, 33 joints, and more than 107 muscles, tendons and ligaments. The Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the body, connects the heel to the calf muscles and is essential for running, jumping, and standing on the toes.
Each step you take involves all these components of the foot working together in precisely timed harmony. When you stand still, your weight is evenly distributed to both feet, and the plantar fascia is partially relaxed. As you walk, your heel touches the ground first, absorbing the impact of your weight. As the rest of your foot reaches the ground, your weight shifts forward to the ball of your foot and your toes. Meanwhile, your arch partially flattens and the plantar fascia is stretched. Then, your weight shifts again as you begin to rise on your toes and the ball of your foot, with the Achilles tendon lifting your ankle, and your body is propelled over that foot, with the weight passing onto the other foot. This is called your gait. Gait is the pattern or manner of walking or moving on foot. This gait cycle describes the mechanics of the way you walk. It starts when one heel strikes/touches the ground and ends a few seconds later when that same heel hits the ground again.
Podiatrists and other foot specialists often analyze a patient’s gait to look for problems that affect the way they walk or cause pain. For instance, if your arch flattens too much when you walk, your foot may be turning too far inward. This may be a sign of (or may cause) a number foot disorders; or if the Achilles is too tight it may contribute to other areas of pain or strain when working or exercising. Based on the shape and functioning of the foot, there can be increased pressure points that can cause callus build up and ulcers – especially in persons with diabetes.
The American Podiatric Medical Association states that the average person takes 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day, which adds up to 115,000 miles in a lifetime – more than four times the circumference of the globe. This process happens with each step. It is easy to see that if this cycle is not working properly, it can lead to foot pain and deformities. When walking, the pressure on your feet exceeds the body’s weight, and when running, it can be three or four times the body’s weight. Standing in one spot is even more tiring than walking because of the demands made on the muscles involved for an even longer time. The foot is the most important part of the body in balancing the body weight and transmitting it to the ground. We see that proper biomechanics is needed to help you to run, walk, stand, and keep all joints in the right place and in balance during the gait cycle.
When the feet work the way they should, it is a beautiful machine that lasts for a lifetime. But, when the feet are out of alignment, so is the rest of your body, leading to foot, ankle, knee and even back pain and problems.
• For more information email us at email@example.com, or to see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre, Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Hilltop Medical Centre, East Terrace Centreville or telephone 394-5820; or Lucayan Medical Centre, East Sunrise Highway, Freeport, Grand Bahama, every first and third Thursday, telephone 373-7400.