Keep Your Arches Healthy!

What do your arches have to do with skin and skincare? Well, not much, really. But, they do have a big say in your general health and well-being. Weak arches are not fully able to support your body weight and in response to standing and walking, they can throw your body completely out of alignment. This imbalance can have minor to severe effects on your entire body’s muscular and bone structures and cause everything form heel spurs to headaches. There are ways to ensure healthy arch development and encourage arches to rebuild if they become weak or fall completely. I learned all about the arch and the important roles it plays while studying massage and anatomy, and felt that this information was too important not to share. This is part one of a three part post on Arch Health: Enjoy!

The foot has two major functions: weight bearing and propulsion. “These functions require a high degree of stability. In addition, the foot must be flexible, so it can adapt to uneven surfaces. The multiple bones and joints of the foot give it flexibility, but these multiple bones must form an arch to support any weight.” [1] The arch of the foot plays an integral part in these two functions. Proper arch development and health is vital to overall well-being and health in life because without a healthy arch in the foot, we are not able to stand up and move properly, the way our bodies were designed to move. When the arch never develops, or falls, the feet tend to overly pronate and balance is thrown off, bones move out of proper alignment, and muscles work overtime, becoming stressed and strained. All of these things add up and manifest as injuries from head to toe, quite literally. “Our feet are what ground us, so if someone has severely flat feet then the whole body is likely to become out of kilter.” [2] The following information is a basic explanation of the of the role and importance of the arch and why more and more we are seeing arch development weaken, causing pain and strain in the body. Furthermore, this paper will suggest ways to maximize arch development and regain arch strength and foot flexibility if feet flatten.

All About the Arch

The arches, located on the soles of the feet, are highly important in establishing proper gait, balance, strength and posture. When properly formed, the arches are able to support the weight of the entire body. In fact, many architectural masterpieces were created with a supportive arch. For example, the Romans used arches to form the aqueducts. An arch can support large amounts of weight by absorbing the weight at the height and then transferring it equally down each leg to the ground. In the same way, our feet are able to help us stand upright and move freely by supporting our entire body’s weight and transferring it via the arch of the foot to the ground, without placing too much pressure on joints or muscles.

Each foot actually has a total of 3 arches: the medial, the lateral and the transverse. The medial arch is made up by the calcaneus, talus, navicular, cuniforms and the first, second and third metatarsals. This is what we normally think of when talking about the arch of the foot. There are 2 other, smaller arches. The lateral arch is located between the calcaneus, cuboid, and the 4th and 5th metatarsals and the transverse arch is made up of the cuniforms, cuboid and metatarsal bones. The medial arch, located along the medial portion of the foot, is the main shock absorber when we walk, jump, run, skip, dance, etc. Because it is the largest arch, it is also responsible for supporting the majority of our body weight when standing upright. The lateral arch is parallel to the medial and runs along with lateral portion of the foot. It is not as high, but can be seen in the foot print even in the case of extremely high arches. The transverse arch, as you may suspect, runs across the middle of the foot, which allows for better weight support and gives the foot more flexibility (we can thank our transverse arch for our ability to step into some of those killer yoga poses.) The arch depends on surrounding ligaments, tendons, bones and muscles for proper formation and health. If these structures are not formed properly, or too strained over time, the arches of the feet can lose their ability to function properly. In some cases (which are increasing recently) the arches of the feet can fall, causing feet to flatten. We will discuss the effects of flat feet a bit later.

Evolution and Our Arch Ancestors

Four million years. That’s about how long it took for us to fully develop the our human feet for use in bipedal locomotion. In developing bipedal locomotion, the foot becomes the only structure that directly interfaces with the ground, and subsequently is under strong selection pressure to deal with both balance and propulsion in a highly efficient way. [3]

“Last year, researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a study titled “Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?” in the podiatry journal The Foot. The study examined 180 modern humans from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu, and European), comparing their feet to one another’s, as well as to the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons. The researchers concluded that, prior to the invention of shoes, people had healthier feet. Among the modern subjects, the Zulu population, which often goes barefoot, had the healthiest feet while the Europeans—i.e., the habitual shoe-wearers —had the unhealthiest. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, when commenting on his findings, lamented that the American Podiatric Medical Association does not “actively encourage outdoor barefoot walking for healthy individuals. This flies in the face of the increasing scientific evidence, including our study, that most of the commercially available footwear is not good for the feet.”[4]

Part 1 of 3

Sources:

  1. (http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/foot_facts/a/foot1.htm)
  2. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1271461/Are-headaches-caused-flat-feet-Doctors-say-countless-suffer-problem.html)
  3. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1571304/)
  4. (http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/)

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