Happy, healthy feet are the key to healthy movement. As we have said before, the feet are the foundation of your body. Just like you wouldn’t want a foundation of a house that is not aligned well or strong, you wouldn’t want the same from the foundation of your body. Again, when it comes to alignment we want to stress that the ultimate goal is not perfection. The goal is to recognize that how you move plays a huge role in how your body functions. If you are wanting to change your function, spend time exploring your current movement patterns using alignment points to work toward making changes.
Standing with your feet at the correct width apart will allows you to access muscles of your hips that optimize your walking, stabilize your core, and help you keep your balance. Maintaining correct foot alignment requires mobility of the joints and strength of the muscles of your feet. The more mobile your foot and ankle, the better they absorb reaction force of walking reducing the reaction force that goes through other joints such as the hips and knees. Trying to walk over a rigid foot demands more work from the rest of your body. Not convinced of the importance of foot mobility yet? Your foot mobility and footwear choices also impact the health of your pelvic floor and bone density.
With all of that being said, let’s cover the 3 alignment points of the foot.
The angle of the foot is directly related to the strength of the hips and has a major impact on the calf muscles and knee joints. We often see individuals walking with feet slightly angled outward, which causes the toes to drift outward over time, leading to bunions. Walking with the feet angled out inhibits the muscles of the outer hip during walking, putting increased pressure on the inner portion of the knee joint. This outward angle of the foot also leads to altered use of the foot muscles, leading to a stiff foot and collapsed arches.
For ideal alignment of the foot, the outer ankle bone should be in line with the bone of the baby toe (as in the above picture). For most people, the easiest way to correct this is leaving the front of the foot positioned where it is while moving the ankle outward. Once this is corrected you may notice that your toes now do not angle forward. Don’t let the toe position distract you from foot alignment. The more you work on foot mobility and strengthening along with correcting this foot alignment the position of the toes will fall in line over time.
Ideally, feet are spaced pelvis width apart, keeping the knee in a direct line with the ankle and hip. Standing with the feet too narrow forces the muscles of the inner thigh to do more stabilizing while walking rather than the muscles of the outer thigh. Standing with the feet too far apart also inhibits the hip muscles and usually indicates a lack of confidence with balance.
To assess the positioning of your feet, take a plumb line (a fancy tool of a string with a nut tied on the end) and stand in front of a mirror. Find the bony part of your pelvis on the front, called the ASIS, and drop the plumb line down from this point. Where does the weight fall at the ankle? The plumb line should be centered in the middle of the outer and inner ankle bone (picture 3). If the plumb line is to the outside of the ankle, move your foot out until you find this alignment (picture 1). If the plumb line is to the inside of the ankle, move your foot inward until you find this alignment (picture 2).
How you carry your weight over your feet has more to do with where the pelvis is positioned, but has a big impact on the health of the feet. We most often see the pelvis pushed forward, pushing the center of mass over the front of the feet rather than the heels (which also compresses the low back, picture 1 below). To improve foot mobility and strength, back your pelvis up so your weight is carried over your heels (picture 2 below).
To assess where you carry your weight over your feet, grab a plumb line again. Stand with your side facing the mirror. Find the bony part of the outside of the hip, called the greater trochanter, and drop the plumb line down from this point. The end of the plumb line should fall in line with the outer ankle bone. If the plumb line falls in front of the ankle, back your pelvis up until you find this alignment.
When you try this new alignment out at first, you may feel like you might lose your balance backwards. This is really common, so keep stretching your calves and practicing this alignment gradually until it becomes more comfortable to you.
Trying to stand with all 3 of these alignment points may be an exercise by itself at first, at that is ok! Again, we want to emphasize the goal here is not perfection, but to use a reference system to change how you are moving. Just take is slow and be gentle with yourself. Over time you can work to incorporate these different foot alignment points into your corrective exercise and movement. Our body is a chain and the feet do not exist in isolation, so you may feel changes in areas like your knees and hips as well. As we stated above, your feet are your foundation so they are a great starting point in terms of improving your mobility.
Now that we covered foot alignment points, we want to stress that avoiding footwear that makes it difficult to maintain this position is ideal! For example, wearing any shoe with a heel makes it impossible to keep the pelvis backed up to center the weight over the heels. Be mindful of the impact of your footwear on your overall health.