Alignment 101: Alignment Tips for Foot Health
Jun 22, 2018
Happy, healthy feet are the key to healthy movement. As we've said before, your feet are the foundation of your body. You wouldn’t want a foundation of a house that's not aligned, so you don't want the same from the foundation of your body.
Better foot alignment will optimize your walking, stabilize your core, and improve 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. This reduces the reaction force that goes through your hips and knees, leaving your joints happy and healthy. In the end, walking with rigid feet demands more work from the rest of your body.
Now that we covered all these fun facts about foot health, let’s talk about the 3 alignment points of the foot.
1. Rotation of The Foot
The angle of the foot impacts the use of your hips. It affects the length of your calf muscle and forces within your knee.
We often see individuals walking with feet angled outward (aka like a duck), which causes the toes to drift outward over time. So, the more you walk with your feet angled out, the more likely you are to create bunions. Ouch!
Walking with the feet angled out also changes the alignment of the rest of the leg, putting increased pressure on the inner part of the knee. This is a common pattern seen in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. This outward angle of the foot also leads to altered use of the foot muscles, leading to a stiff foot and collapsed arches.
Long story short, avoid standing and walking with your feet angled out!
Instead, the outer ankle bone should be in line with the bone of the baby toe (as in the above picture). The easiest way to correct this is to leave the front of the foot in place and push your ankles outward.
Once you're here, you may notice that your toes don't point forward anymore. No, worries though. Don’t let the toe position distract you from foot alignment. By focusing on foot mobility and strengthening, your toes will find better alignment again over time.
2. Width of the Feet
Feet should be spaced pelvis width apart, keeping the knee in a direct vertical line with the ankle and hip. Standing and walking with the feet too narrow or wide creates an imbalance in the use of the muscles of your hips. Over time, this contributes to balance problems and decreased bone density of the hips.
To assess the width of your feet, take a plumb line (a fancy tool of a string with a nut tied on the end). Then 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).
3. Carry Your Weight Over Your Heels
Weight distribution over your feet has more to do with pelvic positioning, but has a major impact on the health of the feet. Avoid pushing your pelvis forward, which puts your center of mass over the front of your feet (and also compresses the low back, picture 1 below). To improve foot mobility and strength, back your pelvis up to center your weight over your heels (picture 2 below).
To check out where you carry your weight over your feet, grab a plumb line again. Stand to your side, looking in a mirror. Find the bony part of the outside of the hip 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 backward. This is really common, so keep stretching your calves and practicing this alignment gradually until it becomes more comfortable for you.
Applying the Alignment Points
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 have a reference system for your movement. Take it slow and be gentle with yourself.
Over time, work to incorporate the foot alignment points into your corrective exercise and movement. Your body is a chain and your feet don't exist in isolation, meaning you may feel changes in your hips and knees as well.
As stated above, your feet are your foundation so they are a great starting point to improve your mobility!
A Note on Footwear
Now that you've learned 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.