Strong feet and proper shoe fit can go a long way to improve your overall health and longevity
Editorial note: This is the first in a three-part series in which human and equine chiropractor Patricia Bona explores the significance of proper shoe fit and how to achieve it.
Farriers are well-acquainted with the phrase “no foot, no horse.” They understand probably better than anyone that strong, sound feet lay the groundwork for the overall health of the equine. Despite this understanding, farriers are often surprisingly unaware about their own footcare needs, and the adverse health effects that can result from poor shoe selection and fit as it relates to the farrier’s foot — the most significant being poor posture.
Posture is simply how your body is positioned when you stand or sit. Characteristics of good posture are neutral spine alignment and proper distribution of stress across the muscles and ligaments, the net result of which, less wear and tear on the joints. Poor posture is just the opposite and can have a variety of long-term negative health consequences, the least of which is chronic pain.
As a chiropractor to humans for 33 years and horses for 26, I have seen and handled thousands of feet. Plantar fasciitis, fallen arches and bunions are the most common foot issues that I see. I watched my mother have hammer toe and bunion surgery, and I had my own painful experience with plantar fasciitis in my early 20s. The list of secondary problems often related to foot imbalance also is significant, starting with knee and hip pain and dysfunction. More often than not, the pelvis is unlevel due to a fallen arch or related to back pain and dysfunction.
- Even if your feet do not hurt, it is probable that an ill-fitting shoe is contributing to other musculoskeletal issues such as knee, hip or back pain due to compromised posture.
- Characteristics of good posture are neutral spine alignment and proper distribution of stress across the muscles and ligaments.
- A common misconception about footwear is that we will wear the
same shoe size all of our adult lives, regardless of our age, the style of
the shoe or the manufacturer.
After many years of working in hoof care, a farrier can easily recognize when a horse is compensating in other areas of the body for problems related to the foot. In the “uncomplicated” horse, we often see that the opposite diagonal foot is where a horse will shift its weight. Humans also are affected in other areas of our bodies when something isn’t right with our feet.
The mechanisms of compensation are more complicated; however, with greater variables anatomically and conformationally speaking. Because we stand on two feet, as soon as one shifts the weight there is a cascade effect in lateral S-curves often associated with the forward shift of the torso. This results in strain to the muscles and connective tissue and stress on major synovial joints of the knees, hips and spine.
Whether you are a horse or human, good posture and the strong, sound feet that get you there are essential to achieving health and longevity. We are on this Earth with little relief from the gravitational pull. As a result, good posture is a relentless challenge from the time we go from crawling to becoming upright. The good news is that simply choosing a proper fitting shoe can alleviate a variety of our postural problems.
The Human Foot and its Function
The forefoot consists of 10 bones — five phalanges and five metatarsals; the mid-foot has a navicular, cuboid and three cuneiform bones. The talus and calcaneus bones can be found in the hindfoot along with synovial joints. The area of the foot formed by the tarsal and metatarsal bones and strengthened by ligaments and tendons is the foot’s arch. The foot has three arches: two longitudinal (medial and lateral) and the anterior transverse. Arches allow the foot to support the weight of the body while standing with the least weight. The muscles of our feet, lower and upper leg play a significant role in our balance, weight bearing and posture. The skin, joints and muscles down to the toenails provide neurologic input to the spinal cord and central nervous system to provide an appropriate postural response. Although we often take our 10 fingers and toes for granted, they provide a specific purpose. Just like the joints in horses’ hocks, fingers are there to micromanage proprioception (understanding where our body parts are in space) for optimum balance, weight bearing and athletic prowess. If we do not allow our toes the opportunity to move through the full range of motion within our shoes, then the muscles of the phalanges to the metatarsal to the tarsals to the lower limb and on up will have disuse atrophy, stiffness and dysfunction. This can result in a variety of conditions that include: flat feet, fallen arches, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, Achilles contracture, hammertoes, bunions, turf toe and toe fungus, pronation, supination, tight hamstrings, shin splints; knee, hip and low back issues; and postural distortions. The foundation for good posture is a well-tuned nervous system that is based on the optimum function of the foot.
Shoe and Fit Considerations
Just as with horses, the type of shoe and shoe fit we select can have a positive or negative result on the rest of our body. The fit of your footgear should be chosen for your conformation, as well as the intended activity and fitness level required to be comfortable, safe and sound. Shoe inserts, arch supports and orthopedics all have a place and time but often, the pain we experience can be alleviated by simply choosing a proper fitting shoe.
A common misconception about footwear is that we will wear the same shoe size all of our adult lives, regardless of our age, the style of the shoe, or the manufacturer. These are all variables that will alter our foot-fit in a particular shoe. As we age, the tendons and ligaments in our feet gradually lose strength, which can reduce arch height and cause an increase in the length or width of the feet. Shoe size and fit will vary between manufacturers, as well as among different styles made by the same manufacturers.
There was a time when we could go to a shoe store and a knowledgeable salesperson could help to correctly size and fit our footwear. Good luck finding that now. You need to advocate for yourself and be a discerning shopper in most cases. I hope that the articles in this series will provide you with the information necessary to help you to become as well shod as the horses that are in your care.
Dr. Patricia Bona, D.C. is a chiropractor for humans and animals (AVCA Certified since 1994), the co-founder of Broad Axe Chiropractic Center and inventor of the Posture Prep Cross Fiber Grooming system for horses. She has also spoken at such events as the International HoofCare Summit and Equine Affaire. Visit her at drpatbona.com.
LEARN MORE ONLINE
Read an article about Dr. Patricia Bona’s lecture at the 2018 International Hoof-Care Summit in which she discusses equine health and the issues that arise with the rotator cuff, tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis in these animals at AmericanFarriers.com/0121