Yes- I do actually ask my clients this question… and no I am not implying that all seniors have crazy feet.
What do I mean by old person feet?
If you looked at your toes and saw any of that… there’s something up!
You know that stat where we’re told that seniors have higher incidences of falls due to a decrease in balance as we age? Well it’s true, but not because that’s “just getting old”… because generally as we age we lower our levels of activity for reasons anywhere from “I ache” to “I’m old I don’t feel like moving anymore” to “I’m scared of falling”. All these things are counterintuitive. If we maintain our movement, we maintain our balance, confidence, and health! Old person feet aka what you see above occur because the muscles in our feet get shut off, for one reason or another (blame the shoes..not the skeleton…), and over time just get used to that position. A entirely dysfunctional position. This also will cause stiffening in the ankle which limits the flexion we have in walking- that plus the cramped up toes means more chance of catching your toes/foot on a crack, stair, carpet, or patch of ice… increasing your chance of a fall. This stiffening also increases chance of stress fractures in the foot and many conditions all the way up the chain, as high as the neck!
And you know what? A LOT of young people have old person feet…
1. Our shoes
You know that fad that swept across the running and exercise world not too long ago claiming minimalist shoes and barefoot running were the thing to do? Well, they weren’t entirely wrong. Regular footwear, orthotics, and workout shoes with all that support are really not doing us any favours. Not only do they cramp our toes, they also provide a great environment for ZERO foot activity. And what happens when a muscle group isn’t used? Well, it gets shut off entirely. Why is that no good? See foot above, and feel the effects of plantars fasciitis, morton’s neuroma, fallen arches, bunions, metatarsalgia, etc etc.
2. Our habits
So your knee hurts, your back hurts, your hip hurts, your neck hurts… common practice? Treat the area that hurts and correct the core, hips, and general posture. Not some common practice? Check the foot posture and build upwards from there. Yes- I said it- dysfunctional feet create dysfunction all the way up the chain! We also love taking every suggestion whole heartedly… you have flat feet because your mom and mom’s mom had flat feet? Well, you’re doomed! Into orthotics you must go.. because surely there isn’t ANY way to retrain the arches of the foot (which, by the way are made of entirely changeable tissues such as muscle.. which is under YOUR control……). Did that sound ridiculous? Thought so. Orthotics and shoes… not great for functional feet! Our posture is a learned habit, usually from our family as we’re learning how to move.. so yes, it makes sense that you pick up what your closest peers are putting down when it comes to foot posture and gait and mannerisms… but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to the same health fate.
3. Our society
You’re likely reading this thinking.. well what does she want me to do.. go barefoot all the time? That’s preposterous!
We’ve created a stigma around our feet. Is not hygienic not to wear shoes, it’s not healthy, it’s ugly.. our feet aren’t pretty, etc. Okay fine, so don’t go barefoot to the grocery sore (although, in New Zealand I’ve experienced many a kiwi who does and did!), or in public places.. but when you’re at home, how about not wearing your indoor shoes… or at the gym, wear your socks only and tread in a more natural state.. work those feet out too. Yes, your feet will likely complain a bit- just as your abs and legs do that first week in the gym after New Years.. give them some time to progress into their new working life, and I guarantee you’ll notice benefits.
Now you’re thinking- okay but how do I actually fix my flat feet, or bunions, or cramped old person feet?
Well, I’ll tell you!
FIrst thing, follow steps above to getting out of your shoes any chance you get.. secondly, add in these exercises!
1. Ankling: keep your toes and heels on the ground, and practice lifting that arch up, holding, and then letting it fall back down. Notice the difference? Notice your hips have to work a little too and your whole leg changes position? Gooooood.
2. Ankle sweeps and toe crunches
Band isn’t necessary but an extra progression if you have one around! First sweep the foot away and up, working those outside ankle muscles.:. Then do some toe curls.. crunch the toes up using those arch muscles- don’t lift toes or heel off the ground! A good external cue for this is to lay a towel flat and use the toes to bunch it up. You should feel your arch working! Sets of 10 please!
Other things you should be doing outside of all these tips is as much balance work as you can.. out of shoes of course! Focus on keeping when weigjt between the front and back of your foot, and that position you found in the ankling exercise.
Have fun kids!