Sunday 17 November 2013

Barefoot fads and freezing feet.

I have been in the fitness industry for thirty years now, as an athlete, a coach and now a therapist. I have seen many fitness fads come and go.  Most of these fads start off as excellent healthy practices then people get overzealous.
Remember step aerobics? I can remember people doing 2 or three classes back to back. The choreography got more and more creative and complex and then we had a rush of  knee and hip injuries and what might have been an excellent aid to fitness fell by the wayside.

The Swiss ball is another example. It can be an excellent rehabilitation tool and is a relevant training tool for those sports that are performed on an unstable surface like ski-ing and mountain biking for example, but the big wobbly ball is hardly relevant for general fitness.Personally I find the floor below me to be predictably stable!

Currently  people with no understanding of anatomy are foam rolling themselves black and blue!! This, along with other good ideas have been bastardised and overused in an attempt to maintain interest and pander to the 'fad freaks' and make money. Some people will pay good money to jump on any bandwagon!!

The barefoot running trend that we now see should not become such a fad. Using the body correctly to move as it was intended is good for everyone's health.  Pressurising manufacturers away from shoes that hurt our posture, and our wallets, is also a good thing.

So please people, ignore the nutters out running barefoot in freezing conditions - This is not what the coaches and therapists are about - we are about healthy movement and phylogenic (*) exercise.

Treat your feet to shoes that keep them warm and safe and allow you to move as posturally perfectly as you were designed to. This footwear is not just to run in but to live in.

* Phylogenic ...Relating to or based on evolutionary development or history.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Barefoot Running and Injuries


Barefoot running is not for everyone. It takes time for the body to build muscle to adapt to the change in load but the changes required by tendon, ligament, bone and flesh may just not be able to happen within an acceptable time scale.

The result is that some runners racing with enthusiasm into their minimalist shoes and barefoot marathons are swapping one set of running issues/injuries for another, different set.

Damage and injury are not inevitable. For example extreme sports are so called because they take the body to and even beyond its natural limits; wear and tear is to be expected. But an average 10k runner who trains properly and is not overweight should not have to suffer injury. What is clear is that running is a skill. There is a way to do it that nurtures our overall health and reduces stress in our bodies.

The barefoot movement has made us stop and examine that skill , it has made us look at what is efficient natural movement, and what causes damage. It has made the sport shoe manufacturers engage in the health of our feet and at least caused a stumble in the marketing of hi-tec over engineered 'fashion' training shoes that do nothing to enhance our feet, our posture or our health.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Back pain , is over striding the reason ?

I recently had a client come in for treatment for low back pain. Sheila normally does a mixed workout and runs a bit. Recently she had decided to walk to work every day and time herself, moving as fast as she could. She had low back pain. On examination I discovered her hip flexors, and notably her psoas, was tight. Releasing the muscle dissipated the pain. She has gone back to running and has no pain.

I spend a lot of time working on extending the hip flexor muscles. Most particularly the psoas.

This muscle group connects the lower back and pelvis to the legs at the upper part of the inside thigh. These muscles lift the leg up and if you rotate your leg outwards and back it's the powerful muscle the pulls it in. The hip flexors take part in walking, running and kicking and any movement that drives the leg forward. It is an important postural muscle that helps keep you upright.

The psoas is part of this system. It is a long ropey muscle that extends from the lower vertebrae in the small of your back through the middle of the pelvis and on to the top of the inner thigh. If it is too tight you may feel tight hamstrings as your pelvis is pulled into a forward rotation. Tight hip flexors not only stress the hamstrings they pull on the vertebrae of the lower back to which they are attached. This causes pain and tightness and often results in vertebrae being displaced, and can contribute to disc prolapse.

But it's not just athletes, all sorts of people have issues. I have noticed that people who pride themselves on being able to walk briskly have issues with this muscle. So are they all doing something wrong?

I have a theory. I think overstriding is to blame. Left to walk barefoot no-one takes a long stride. It necessitates a strong heelstrike which hurts. It involves a heavy impact which is uncomfortable.  Think about how you walk on the hard surface around a swimming pool. Imagine you were walking on a concrete driveway in your bare feet and you had to suddenly sprint to stop a child from going on to the road. 
How would you move? You'd take lots of little fast strides up on the balls of your feet. If this is our natural evolved movement then the long stride is only facilitated by the cushioning of a shoe. Most of us have adapted to this but at what cost? The shortened hip flexors!

Taking a muscle from hyperextension  into deep contraction quickly causes stress, that's why footballers often have issues with this muscle. They use this muscle for that explosive kick.

Our natural gait is to walk when we need to move slowly, move into a run  if more pace is required and then if we need to go fast, to sprint. If we do this while keeping the bodyweight and pelvis above the feet, the hip flexor's job becomes less stressful, reducing the likelihood of injury. This is how we learned to walk. We change as we become accustomed to footwear. To regain that pattern is certainly difficult and minimalist footwear can help with that change.

Friday 20 September 2013

No Sore Feet on Holiday...

Why is it that my husband and son don't complain about sore feet on holiday but moan all the time at home? She asked.

Further investigation told me that these guys suffer from , flat feet. At home they wear traditional gents shoes with expensive orthotics inside that require regular expensive refreshing. On holiday they wear flip flops all day.

There are 2 possible answers.
1 They don't feel pain in Finland ( where they spent their vacation)
2 The shoes they wear at home with the orthotics hurt their feet.

I am not having a go at podiatrists who can do an amazing job helping people, but sometimes a weakness needs strengthened and not supported and orthotics are not the answer .

To simplify the biomechanics:
The bones of the foot make an arch, this arch allows the force of your bodyweight to be split along the flat joint surfaces just like in a bridge. But the foot isn't planted into the ground the way a bridge is so in time that force pushes the arch down flattening the foot. The body compensates for this naturally because tendons are attached to the bones in the foot and as the muscles contract when you walk those tendons pull the arch back up in a sort of windlass mechanism. This balances the structure perfectly....assuming you walk correctly.

For many, a walk is a heel strike, a foot fall and then the bodyweight falls forward and the foot is lifted by the leg for the next step. In flip flops you can't heel strike, they'd fly off. You can't just fall forward and lift the foot you have to grip and use the toes or you'd lose the shoe.

In short, in flip flops you have to work the foot, the movement pattern although not exactly the same as barefoot, is much closer and involves some positive muscle action, within the foot and ankle and calf.

Son and husband only have flat feet because they have weak feet. These guys need some barefoot movement in their lives.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Can I really climb the Pyrenees?

There I was 4500 feet up in the French Pyrenees, an 8 hour day of walking and climbing, was it really me?

I have not walked this far for over 20 years. So managing the climb is an immense achievement.

I damaged my sacroiliac joints giving birth. They had become so lax that my back would swell when any pressure was applied. I’d given up on conventional medicine having been tossed between specialists and offered only painkillers.

I’d tried to strengthen myself and even became a gym instructor, albeit one who had to lie down between classes! I got into alternative therapies and now run my own successful clinic treating people who have structural problems with a combination of massage, Dorn method, Spinal touch, Kinesiology…you name it I’d given it a go, still really looking for the answer for myself.

One of my sons is a traceur, a parkour coach. (One of those guys that jumps off stuff… I usually have to give this explanation).  He has been into barefoot movement most of his life to be honest and the recent revelations have only proved him right.  Anyway, he bought me a pair of Vivo’s for my birthday, my 51st birthday! Taking the challenge and seeing another opportunity to add to my clinical skills I enrolled for the coaching qualification. The information was immediately applicable and lots of happy clients are improving as a result.

Personally I have found the barefoot journey has been a painful one. My feet ached as they became more supple and spread, my Achilles still ache but they are becoming stronger and more flexible. Every single day has felt like a gym day as I adapted.   But here I am; I climbed a mountain with a backpack, my knees and my feet did the work, they absorbed the shock and I don’t hurt.

Recently I have had to throw away most of my shoes (my feet have spread as they strengthened), they no longer fit. Or rather they were not fit for walking.

Vive le vivo!

Monday 2 September 2013

Why do our bodies breakdown so often? it self harm?

As a therapist I deal with injuries every day. Some are the manifestation of the stress and tension of everyday living, some are due to unfortunate accidents, some are overuse injuries or unbalanced/unintelligent training programmes but the majority of injuries are actually self harm!

What I want to address is...if we are really evolved or designed intelligently to function as moving beings, then why does it all so often go wrong? Why do we see the same patterns of tension and strain over and over?

We therapists identify the overused, the tight and the weak structures, then attempt to restore balance through massage techniques, kinesiology, manipulation and exercise. People seem happy to accept things like, "I have a weak ankle", "dodgy knees","my hamstrings have always been tight - it's me!" A huge industry has grown around addressing the problem that nature didn't get right.  

I find it naive and patronising to assume that nature or God (whatever is your belief) didn't get it quite right. So that simply running like we are designed to will naturally result in tight calves, shinsplints, hamstring injuries, low back pain, hip flexor tension, over pronation or supination.

So why do we breakdown so often?
After all the years I have spent in the body industry I reckon we are just not moving like we are designed to. The natural gait gets messed up when we trap the feet and stop them from working by putting them into 'supportive' (more like restrictive) shoes, where they can no longer flex and bend. The feet lose strength, we stop using the natural elasticity of a healthy footstrike pattern and adopt a new one fit for these bindings. In time the achilles tendon shortens, it stiffens and loses strength - the feet get narrower and less active. Eventually they stop feeding back. Feet are a sensory organ and cushioning dims this sense just as ear plugs do to our hearing. Without feedback the body does the best it can, compensating with hips and knees which of course results in tight calves, shinsplints, hamstring injuries, low back pain and hip flexor tension, over pronation or supination.

Undoing this takes time and work and training - but it is possible. We are capable of great adaptation.

I find that teaching people the basics of  movement, getting them to be barefoot whenever possible, come out of restrictive shoes and choose minimalist barefoot options makes a huge difference.

So if we are going to make a real difference to everyone, regular people, athletes and "wanna be" athletes who keep breaking - we have to start by undoing their changed gait and unravelling their restricted bodies.

Let your feet be free - start with the minimalist barefoot shoe. My favourite are Vivos - not only for runners - they have great casual shoes and are a really healthy option for kids feet.

Friday 23 August 2013

Less Running Injuries

If we kept barefoot  longer and resisted technology we would suffer less running injuries and enjoy ourselves more.

I find it difficult to turn off work mode. Stop looking at gait, looking out for pronation, supination, hip movement  - and just enjoy a walk in the park.  Living so close to the Meadows in Edinburgh gives me the opportunity to watch people move in all sorts of sports.

Sometimes I am shocked. I watched a football match, the boys involved would have been 9 or 10 years old, still at an age where they spent a lot of time just chasing the ball. One in particular caught my eye because he couldn't run. I am not sure what one might call the way he endeavoured to cover ground quickly but he had clearly lost touch with natural movement. He was impeccably kitted out with a new football shorts and shirt, big socks and his boots had some serious go faster logos on them. This clearly wasn't helping, because his bodyweight was so far back his legs reached forward in long strides so that he was braking his forward momentum by landing on his heel then he had to drag his bodyweight forward over his legs. He was ungainly and he looked uncomfortable. His arms were pumping in different directions and his face was a picture of concentration. He was working as hard as all the others, maybe harder and yet accomplishing less.

Later the same day my neighbour's 4  year old was on the trampoline, barefoot, she was bouncing and playing with her balance. She spied a friend arriving in the next garden crawled out of the netting and zipped across to meet her. I say zipped because unaffected by footwear or any external expectation of what running should be like this little one moved with amazing efficiency. Her bodyweight perfectly aligned, head directly above shoulders, hips directly below and  the pads of her foot seemed to barely touch the grass. Her arms hang at her chest and she moved so fast and with such joy. She could have taken on that 10 year old in his football boots and outrun him easily.  So when I ask myself where did it all go wrong and why do so many people get injured as they labour over their sport and fitness regime, I suppose the answer lies somewhere between the well kitted 10 year old who was so inefficiently labouring over his game, and the barefoot 4 year old who is just enjoying movement.

We don't need hi-tech help - we need to stay natural; it's this technique that will help bring back the joy of running and of comfortable pain free movement. Take the time to learn to run barefoot if you are getting injured or feel that you are labouring over your exercise rather than enjoying it. Contact me for barefoot coaching in Edinburgh. If you've already made that transition and want shoes use the code above to get yourself a discount. If you want to keep your children moving naturally Vivo do a great range of kids shoes at non profit prices.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

The Barefoot Experience

When I first heard about barefoot running, several years ago, I was sceptical -don’t we need cushioning to protect us from injuries? And why would I want to run barefoot, anyway?

But several months ago, I read a few influential articles, my son sent me a link to Lee Saxby's book on Proprioception and I started to look at the issue from a therapist’s point of view, and apply what I have learned to my own gait.

The first thing I notice is that one is immediately a little slower. You can’t take as long a stride as it is necessary to keep your bodyweight over your centre of gravity to avoid the heel strike. Next I notice “an awareness”, I feel more connected to the ground. More importantly my back and unexpectedly even my shoulders feel more relaxed. After a long day when my body is sore, this soft bouncy motion eases tension. Barefoot runners say that their feet have become stronger, they feel better and whereas running was always fun, it now feels like play! I can see where they are coming from.

To demonstrate
1. Consider how you walk in shoes and then contrast it to how you walk around a swimming pool.
2. Have you ever noticed that children begin walking on the balls of their feet? They come down on their heels only when we put them in shoes!
3. Try this. Walk around barefoot with your eyes closed and allow your heel to hit the floor first as it does in a shoe. You’ll be able to hear and feel the shock of every step as it goes through the joints and the back. Then shorten your stride and land on the pad of your foot - no sound and no jarring!

Is this why I see so many people with low back pain back, SI joint and knee issues? Is this shock too much for a body? It makes me wonder…just what are we doing to ourselves!

I was so impressed I took the course and I am now a trainer, teaching running alongside my remedial massage clinic. I found that I could immediately take this training and use it to help with sports Injuries and general structural problems. At least 70% of the population have back injuries. Are our shoes to blame?

Its time to go back to basics, barefoot is best and barefoot shoes are the next best thing. Vivo do running shoes and a good range of casual shoes for men woman and most importantly for children. Be good to your feet.

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.’
~Kahlil Gibran  

Saturday 3 August 2013

Barefoot running low back pain and sports injuries

I seem to have this conversation a lot.

Me to client with ongoing returning low back pain.
The more support you give your feet with the expensive  hi-tec trainers  the more support your feet will ultimately need. Furthermore that support is likely to be undermining the balance of all the other structures that support movement. That might in fact be why your discomfort keeps returning.

Client to me, indignantly.
 'What do you mean?'  ' I went to 2 different shops and they both told me that these are the only shoes that balance my pronation.

Me to client, 
If your back will not support you, do you wrap it in elastic or other supportive structures?

Client to me. 
'No I would exercise and strengthen my back because the support would ultimately weaken it and that would make things worse.' Then she exclaimed in a moment of realisation, 'is it the same for feet?'

Me to client.
'Yes of course. If your feet don't hit the ground properly sticking wedges or air pockets or roll bars underneath is never going to teach them to. In fact it's going to make sure they don't ever strike the ground correctly and whatever problem you  have you will keep. Such support mechanisms will make your shoe hit the ground correctly not your foot.  Whether the problem is pronation or supination these thick soled cushioned cocoons will not allow all the fabulous information gathering cells on your feet to tell the brain what's going on as your foot strikes the ground so how can the feet ever correct? Your feet are attached to your knees and your hips. If  they don't hit the ground correctly that imbalance will show up somewhere.!

Client to me
So why do they sell them?  I mean they are sports companies!

Me to client.
To make money!!!

Your feet are the best thing to walk on and to run on. It might take some work and some training but for optimum health you need to go barefoot.Use barefoot running shoes.

My preference is vivo barefoot shoes. Use this code to get a cheeky wee 20% discount tcQJO-EZ3-EDW-BTS

Thursday 25 July 2013

Are the expensive trainers worth it?

People spend a fortune on running shoes. The choice is endless, confusing and the technology is absurd. We are cleverly marketed these highly engineered products with the promise of increased performance and reduced risk of injury. And yet athletes and would be athletes are still getting as many injuries as before, if not more. So what should you buy? The most expensive? The cheapest? Or should you just run barefoot?

The ‘experts/manufacturers’ would suggest that by changing ‘impact force’ of foot on the ground, or modifying the contact with the ground, it will reduce your likelihood of injury. There is a tendency to throw around words like pronation or supination as if these were just built-in defects that could be improved with the correct shoe.

As a therapist I’d rather work out the reason for the pronation or supination and correct that. I also believe that your foot, like the rest of you, should be strong enough to do its job - and that nothing is as good to move on as the foot. I like to look for the reason for the poor contact, and the reason for the contact stresses, and correct those. Build a body that can run, rather than support a weakness.

It is oversimplifying the issue to assume that a shoe can correct your gait. You are more individual than that, and there is a wide range of intrinsic risk factors - basically dependent upon how you are put together, what you do every day and have been doing with yourself for your life so far - that impact on your proprioception and the balance of your muscles which makes you too unique for this model. Messing around with one biomechanical factor will impact on all the other structures in the body. There is no way to be sure that what you think your high tech shoe is achieving for you is in fact what you as an individual need for your training programme, gait, biomechanics and injury history.

There is research to indicate that wearing shoes that attempt to correct pronation or provide cushioning may result in a greater prevalence of injury (Warburton, 2001).

Warburton concludes that running in shoes:
  1. can increase risk of ankle sprains by decreasing awareness of foot position and amplify twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble
  2. can increase risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures
If today’s fancy shoes are so good and the high tech is so necessary, then how come the generation of runners before us did not get injured more often? Remember the lovely light feeling of old school gym shoes? Similar styles are currently fashionable and are possibly one of the healthiest shoe fashions yet. The thinner sole allows input about the ground below. Your foot is designed to receive input. It‘s a brilliant piece of engineering that we bind and blind when we stick it into a pair of high tech trainers or fashion shoes.