Improving the Health of Your Feet

Tattoed toes

The feet are perhaps the most distant part of our physical awareness and as such are often overlooked. We neglect them by wearing the wrong footwear, or failing to tend to the nails, cuticles and hard skin. When something goes wrong – when our shoes rub and we get a blister, or when a nail starts to ingrow, or we get a bunion – then we become all too aware of our feet and the burden they bear carrying us around all day. Because the feet take the weight of the whole body, foot problems can quickly affect the way you walk. This in turn can cause knee, hip and back pain.

A few facts about feet:

• each foot has more than 100 ligaments, which help facilitate the broad range of movement it is capable of;

• with 26 bones in each foot, more than a quarter of the bones in the whole body are in the feet;

• the skin on the feet has more than 7,000 nerve endings, making them highly sensitive to their environment;

• there are more sweat glands in your feet than any other part of your body, each foot producing around half an eggcup’s worth of sweat every day.

Artistic foot diagram

Here are five simple ways to reconnect with your feet and keep them healthy:

Toe socks

Five-toe socks are much better than the traditional design of sock because they allow the toes to splay and align naturally, providing greater stability and comfort. When the toes are separated, properly aligned and splayed, it distributes the body’s weight evenly and allows the entire foot to be engaged in whatever activity is being performed, walking, running etc. With each toe separated and protected in its own sheath, skin-on-skin friction is completely eliminated, protecting the feet from blisters and other hotspots.

Toe Socks by Sock Dragon18-d4nflf4

Correct footwear

It’s important to wear appropriate footwear for the activity being engaged in. Walking any great distance in flip-flops then, is not a good idea.

High heels and pointed shoes are best kept to special occasions. Wearing heels on a regular basis can cause blisters, corns, calluses, as well as foot, ankle and back pain. The College of Podiatry’s advice is to limit wearing heels to around three to eight hours. The shoes should fit correctly, not too narrow and with up to half an inch of space beyond the longest toe. The height of heels shouldn’t be so high you have trouble walking. Podiatrists advise high heel wearers to slow down, take smaller steps and shorten their stride. Put the heel down first and glide to minimise foot damage. Finally, feet should be given special attention during and after wearing high heels. Exercise the calf, heel and foot muscles by stretching them out to increase circulation and help them relax. A moisturising foot massage once home will help the foot muscles relax and rehydrate them.

Killer heels

For runners, a video gait analysis is very useful to ensure the correct trainers for the way you naturally run. It’s worth investing in the best training shoes you can afford to correct any irregularities in your running action, e.g. heels pronating in- or outwards, which can lead to foot and ankle pain or shin splints. Specialist running shops like Runners Need have the technology to video and analyse your gait as you run on a running machine, and thereafter advise you on the best sport shoes to suit your natural biomechanics and training goals.

Pilates

Attending a Pilates class on a regular basis will help build a strong awareness of your feet, i.e. how they move, how they relate to the rest of your body, where you’re inclined to place them and how the weight is distributed on them. A well-designed Pilates class will take your feet and ankles through their full range of movement: flexion, extension, pronation and supination. Some Pilates exercises involve a balance element, which helps build the strength of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that move and support the foot and ankle. This can improve stability and avoid the foot rolling in or out when walking or running.

Catwoman balancing on bottles

Foot Hygiene

It’s important to wash your feet before going to bed. If dirt is left on the surface, the skin can become irritated and infected. Wash your feet every evening with soap and water then dry them well, especially between the toes, where germs such as Athlete’s foot can easily breed. After drying, apply a moisturising foot cream rather than body lotion, which is less able to keep the tougher skin you have on your feet smooth, soft and hydrated.

Hard Skin and Nail Care

Gently remove hard skin and calluses on a regular basis using a pumice stone, file or for a better finish requiring less effort, an electric hard skin remover is well worth the investment. The Emjoi Micro-Pedi hard skin remover is particularly effective and comes highly recommended.

Toe nails should be cut regularly, straight across, never at an angle or down the edges as this can cause ingrown toenails.

Honing Your Seventh Sense – Pilates & Proprioception

Back flip on a beam

The human body has more than just the five commonly known senses. There are three categories of senses. The first is the “special” senses, which include sight, hearing, taste and smell. The second category consists of the somatic senses, normally referred to as “touch.” This involves our perception of pressure, heat and pain. The third category is less well-known. These are the interoceptive senses, which deal with information originating in the body itself.

Essentially there are three interoceptive senses. The first, balance, is a sense of the body’s alignment. This is what helps keep us upright and stable. The renowned ability of a cat to always land on its feet is also due to this sense. The second interoceptive sense is the organic sense, which alerts the body to its internal condition, telling us when we’re hungry or thirsty for instance. The third interoceptive sense is known as proprioception. This, put simply, is the brain’s knowledge of the relative position of different parts of the body in space.

Tightrope walker on a slack wire

To experience proprioception, close your eyes and extend your hand in any direction. Now identify in your mind its exact position and open your eyes. Note that your brain was well aware of your hand’s position, even though none of the classic five senses were being used to detect it. This is proprioception. Without it we would have no concept of where our bodies are, or how they feel when we move them, thus leaving us vulnerable to accidents and potential injury.

The proprioceptive sense is perceived using our nervous system. Connective tissue, i.e. our ligaments, tendons and fascia, is far more innervated than muscle, having ten times as many sensory receptors. For this reason proprioception is associated mainly with our connective tissue rather than with our muscles. This means that when you think you’re feeling your muscles moving, you’re more likely to be tuning in with the movement of your connective tissue.

Proprioception has another interesting property. It is believed that pain and proprioception cannot exist at the same time. This means that a person in pain is less aware of their body and as such, more susceptible to moving awkwardly or falling over.

Acrobatic tumble

For all the above reasons , it’s important to ensure our connective tissue is healthy, works well and that we hone our proprioceptive sense. Pilates, with its emphasis on executing controlled, flowing movements in alignment, can help us realise both these objectives. For example, lying semi-supine in neutral pelvis gives us feedback, or a proprioceptive sense of how our back is positioned. When we perform a spine curl, we can feel the pressure being placed at different points along the spine and across the upper back. When a leg is lifted to table top, or an arm moved in an arc over the head, we experience a change in the way the body’s weight is distributed.

When a beginner to Pilates is asked how their back felt when they performed a certain exercise, e.g. a roll down from standing, they often find it difficult to know how to reply. This is because their proprioceptive sense has not yet been honed. Indeed, many beginners associate pain with movement, insisting they can’t feel anything unless it hurts.

Over-time, a well-designed, well-taught Pilates class will help clients develop their proprioceptive sense, leading to a greater awareness of the body, how the different parts of it feel and move, thus avoiding accidents and potential injury.

Dancer on points

Why More Men Should Do Pilates

Man doing Pilates

Perhaps the most compelling reason why more men should do Pilates is that it can enhance their performance in bed, but more of that later…

First let’s consider some common misconceptions about Pilates, starting with the idea that it’s “just for women.” Whilst it’s true that a significant number of those who go to Pilates and indeed who teach it, are women, this has more to do with an image problem than any bias towards women inherent in the Pilates repertoire of exercises.

Pilates was originally developed by a man for men of course. Joseph Pilates created his now infamous exercise regime in an internment camp during the war as a means of rehabilitating injured soldiers. He then moved to New York and opened his first studio, where the Pilates Method as it’s now understood, further evolved. Amongst his first clients were boxers, wrestlers and male dancers.

Another common misconception which can deter men from coming to class is that Pilates is “too easy to be real exercise.” This couldn’t be more wrong. Pilates is used by elite male athletes all over the world – e.g. Andy Murray, Bradley Wiggins, Gareth Bale – as a means of enhancing their performance, so can hardly be considered “too easy” or not a credible form of exercise.  Professional sportsmen (including the England Cricket team, London Wasps and St Helens) have incorporated Pilates into their training regime because they can see the tangible benefits it can bring to their overall fitness and success on the field.

Men are physiologically more predisposed to tight muscles than women, particularly in and around the pelvis. This can result in a tight lower back, calves and hamstrings, problem areas that regular Pilates, with its emphasis on controlled flexibility, can successfully overcome.

Men doing Pilates

In addition to flexibility, Pilates can help men build the strength of their local stabiliser muscles. For those men whose job involves heavy or awkward lifting or sitting at a desk for long periods, lower back pain is a common problem, particularly sciatica and slipped discs. In such cases, activating the deeper layers of  muscle, e.g. the transversus abdominis, is crucial in order to stabilise the spine. Pilates can not only develop the more superficial or global muscles, such as the rectus abdominis, the six-pack, but also the deeper or local muscles, which are notoriously hard to engage and strengthen.

Pilates’ ability to tackle both the local and global muscle systems and its holistic approach to working the body, is invaluable in both rehabilitating injuries and improving fitness and performance. Faced with such benefits, it’s a shame that some men are still put off coming to class by concerns they may be the only man in the room. Whilst in the past this may have been the case, in recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of men doing Pilates, both as part of a group and on a one-to-one basis.

Still not convinced Pilates has something valuable to offer men? Let’s return to the point made at the start, that Pilates can help men improve their sexual performance. An important and indeed unique feature of Pilates is the pelvic floor engagement.  We do this to fire up those deep or local stabiliser muscles in and around the lower spine. Research into male sexual health shows that a strong pelvic floor is key to achieving and maintaining a strong erection. In Pilates we engage the pelvic floor after every out-breath.  Think about how many times you exhale in an hour-long class.  That’s a lot of pelvic floor strengthening!

Perhaps if it were more widely known that Pilates can help men achieve a stronger erection and maintain it for longer, there would be more men attending class than women.

Man doing Pilates

This article was inspired by a piece by Holly Nuttall.

Pilates at Complete Health Clinic

Complete Health Clinic logo

Melissa is now teaching five classes each week at Complete Health Clinic in Clevedon. The schedule of sessions is as follows:

  • Monday evenings, 19.00 to 20.00
  • Wednesday lunchtimes, 12.30 to 13.30
  • Wednesday evenings, 19.15 to 20.15
  • Thursday evenings, 19.15 to 20.15
  • Friday mornings, 09,30 to 10.30

Limited to seven attendees and costing £8, these small group classes allow for a more hands-on, tailored form of teaching.  As such the sessions are particularly suited for those recovering from injury, or trying to manage an ongoing weak spot in their body.

To attend one of the weekly Pilates classes at Complete Health Clinic, you need to have either been taught by Melissa at one of the other classes she teaches in Clevedon or Bristol.  Alternatively, if you’ve done Pilates elsewhere, you just need to have one half-hour private i.e. one-to-one, beginner session with Melissa at the clinic costing £30.  If you’ve never done Pilates before, you would need to have two half-hour private sessions with Melissa at the clinic at a total cost of £60.

To book a place on one of Complete Health Clinic’s weekly Pilates classes, or to arrange a private one-to-one session, please contact the clinic via this link.

Acrobat