The purpose of this article is to describe a simple exercise you can do to help maintain the health of your feet. Our shoes are narrower than our feet. (1) Shoes have an impact in the overall shape of our feet.(2) Because of this I have found that over time our feet are also narrower than they should be. Part of this is because some of the small muscles and the connective tissue in our feet become chronically contracted. As a result, this can cause muscles and joints in the legs, thighs, and low back to tighten. The narrowing of our feet also has an effect on our overall balance. The purpose of this release technique is to stretch the muscles and fascia between the long bones of the foot (the metatarsals) and create more space. This is important for the health of your feet, ankles, and the rest of your body. This works best in conjunction with the Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) patients receive.
This is a good release to do to yourself on a regular basis while sitting on the couch watching to television. In addition to doing this release, it is also important to find a pair of shoes that do not compress your feet while you wear them during the day. That way, you are not undoing what you have accomplished. Sneakers, in general, will still compress your feet. Many minimalist shoes will work but I suggest testing them out before buying them. One brand that I like is Vivobarefoot for colder weather and Xero Shoes when it is warmer. In addition, wearing a toe spacer such as Correct Toes will also help enhance and maximize the results.
Here’s a description of the intermetatarsal space release: Find the space along the long bones of the big toe and the second toe (next to the big toe). Start close to the “knuckles” of the toes and with your thumbs crisscrossed, gently push the bones apart for 15 seconds or you may spend longer on the tender areas. This may be tender but just use enough pressure as is comfortable. Do not go over your threshold of pain. Once you have stretched it for a short period of time, then move up about 1 or 2 centimeters and repeat the stretch. Keep going until you have released the space as far as you can go which usually takes about 3 or 4 times.
Once you have done the space corresponding to the 1st and 2nd toe, then move on and do the same to the spaces between the rest of the foot. Doing this regularly over time, you may notice your feet feeling more grounded, more relaxed, more balanced, and even looking a little wider. This can have an effect on your overall health. How important is your health?
(1) Thompson FM, Coughlin MJ. The High Price of High-Fashion Footwear. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1994;76:1586-1593.
(2) Zipfel, B. & Berger, L.R. Shod versus unshod: the emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans. (The Foot: The International Journal Of Foot Science – Volume 17, issue 4 – December 2007) http://www.profleeberger.com/files/YFOOT1001.pdf