Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Barefoot Care

A while back (April 09) I wrote a post called karate Feet in which I talked about the problem of getting cramp in my feet. I concluded in that post that my cramp problems most likely stemmed from a combination of dehydration and weak muscles in my feet.

Though I suffer from foot cramps less often than I used to I still suffer from various foot problems. My current problem is a severe splitting of the skin on my big toe. This was caused by 'bouncing' or 'pulsing' on the balls of my feet during a lengthy (1.5hrs)  kumite training session last Saturday. The backward and forward motion of bouncing can cause a lot of friction on the balls of the feet and underside of the toes. If the skin is already dry or cracked then the repetitive bouncing action eventually shears off the skin causing the split. This is what has happened to me. It didn't bleed and no skin came off (such as when a blister bursts), it just split!

This has made me realise that it is time to start taking more care of my feet. Though I keep my feet clean and my toe nails clipped, I have to admit I don't do much else to look after my feet. Let's face it, with all this barefoot exercise my feet take a lot of punishment.

So I had a look around some 'Foot care' websites and 'Barefoot exercise' websites and have put together a few tips for exercising and caring for the feet:

Exercises to strengthen the feet:
When anyone starts any barefoot exercise for the first time, be it martial arts or barefoot running, the feet need to be strengthened and conditioned for the rough treatment they will be subjected to. Though barefoot practices are ultimately thought to be better for foot, ankle, knee and hip health; years of wearing cushioned shoes makes the muscles, ligaments and tendons in our feet weak and out of condition. To get the benefits of barefoot exercise we therefore need to gradually improve foot strength. Here are four simple foot exercises that you can do (source: barefootrunner.com):

Toe Fans: While seated, lift your feet up to a comfortable height. Spread all ten toes out as wide as you can and hold for a slow count of 15 before you relax. Repeat 3 times.

Toe Grip: Place a pen or pencil on the floor. Use your toes to grab and lift the pen/pencil off the floor. Hold for a slow count of 10. Repeat 3 times on the one foot before repeating exercise on the other foot.

Up High: Stand up tall and on the transverse arch, just like when you need to reach that top pantry shelf. Walk 30-40 paces before taking a 5-10 second rest. Repeat 3 times.

Heel Walk: Transfer your body weight on your heels. Lift the toe/front of your feet up high and press into the ground with your heels. Walk 25-30 paces before taking a rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

I don't see why these exercises can't be built into a warm-up.

Skin care for the feet:
The aim of skin care for the feet is to achieve tough but callus and blister free skin that is also free of fungal/viral infections such as athletes foot, warts/verrucas and ringworm fungus. Most of the problems we get with our feet are actually caused by our shoes - ill-fitting shoes cause calluses, bunions, corns, heel spurs etc, whilst enclosing our feet in poorly ventilated shoes makes us more prone to incubating foot infections. So, it follows that going barefoot will cure/prevent most of the problems!

The biggest problem for newbies to barefoot exercise is having soft skin on the soles of the feet that is prone to drying out, blistering or splitting, particularly if training is done on a hard surface rather than on padded mats. The problem is made worse if the feet are subjected to severe friction and shearing forces as they may be when 'bouncing' during sparring practice. Split or damaged skin is then prone to picking up infections.

Here's my top ten tips for keeping feet in tip top condition:

1. Avoid shoe related foot problems by wearing well fitted shoes made from breathable fabrics.
2. Go barefoot at home whenever possible or wear very open, flat shoes such as flip flops.
3. Keep feet clean, dry between toes and keep toe nails short.
4. Clean feet immediately before and after training with baby wipes.
5. Wear flip flops in changing rooms and when walking to/from training area.
6. Moisturise feet every day to keep skin supple.
7. Toughen the soles of the feet by walking barefoot on increasingly rougher surfaces but avoid stepping on objects that may break or damage the skin - you are aiming for thicker more leathery soles not dry, cracked,callus prone ones!
8 Check feet regularly for signs of skin damage or infection.
9.Do not toughen skin with surgical spirits
10. Get more serious problems such as bunions, heel spurs or severe calluses treated professionally.

Now I need to start practicing what I preach! Do you have any foot care advice?

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Felicia said...

Hi, Sue :-) Sorry to hear about your toes. Ouch!

From years of doing plyometric exercises for track, my arches fell a few years back - some time before a I started training in karate. But as a result, I did have some cramping problems while sitting in zazen initially. My doc said the arches needed strengthening, as did the tendons and ligaments in my feet since they were now doing things they weren't much used to doing. He gave me some exercises (like the pencil pick-up and another that involved squishing up a towel with my toes) and also suggested a daily magnesium supplement and water DURING training - which all helped. When I do get the odd cramp during class or after tourneys, my sensei recommends a capful of apple cider vinegar. It doesn't taste the best, but it works immediately! I keep a small plastic bottle of it in my gear bag now...

My other foot problems all stem from general dryness. The balls of my feet, the outside edge of the big toe and my heels can get like sandpaper! I use a pumice stone regularly and always moisturize with some vitamin E cream after I jump out of the shower. So far, so good...

Thanks for the other tips!

Sue C said...

Felicia, sounds like you already practice good footcare. I'll have to try that apple cider vinegar tip for cramp - you clearly swear by it!

Unknown said...

My best advice in addition to your current regimen is to add a biweekly soaking (i keep my feet in hot water for about 30-45 min) followed by the removal of dead skin with a foot-file. (No razors or similar)

Then afterwards i apply liberal amounts of moisturizer and i am happy to say that all the skin problems i used to be plagued with are now ancient history.

(I do 20-25 hours of barefoot karate pr week, so i am very happy with the success of my foot-care)


Sue C said...

Hi Einar, sounds like a great foot treatment - have you ever tried a fish foot spa? You just soak your feet in the water and the little fish nibble away at the dead skin - it's supposed to work really well and is very relaxing. I haven't tried it myself but it sounds very interesting!

Unknown said...

I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
foot surgery colorado springs

Sue C said...

You're welcome Andi..

Tesseract Orion said...

Hi, one of my Sensei always used surgical spirit (she also ran barefoot). Do you not recommend it due to its stringent, drying qualities?

Thanks for interesting blog btw :-)

Sue C said...

Hi John, surgical spirit is very astringent so I personally wouldn't use it. However, if your sensei is using it successfully and not getting any adverse problems then maybe it's ok - have you had a sneaky look at her feet to see if they look healthy?


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