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The Tale Your Feet Tell

December, 2018

If you lead an active lifestyle, you are probably familiar with buildups of toughened skin, most commonly on your feet. Besides giving your pedicurist a measurable and objective occupation, those leathery, flaky patches of skin tell a tale of how you bear weight in standing, walking, and other activities.

 


Your feet’s visible signs of buildup and abrasion can give insight into your gait and stance. Photo courtesy Unsplash.

 

Skin and bones toughen in response to stress. Appropriate stress causes appropriate toughening (strong bones and thick skin), while undue stress causes undue toughness (arthritic spurs in bones, calluses and corns in skin). If we are knowledgeable we can read into our habits by examining our skin and bones.

Take a look at your feet. The most common areas to develop calluses are around the heels, on the inside of the first metatarsophalangeal joint (base of the big toe), and on the inside of the toe’s only joint. There may also be some hardening of the skin at the base of the other toes, where the toes press against each other, and on the outside of the foot.

 


Calluses can form on many parts of the foot, including sides or bottoms of toes as well as the heel. Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

 

Each of these thickenings indicates pressure, whether between the floor and your feet, or within your foot. They give you clues on how you might improve your stance and gait.

  1. Calluses on the medial side (inside) of your big toe, whether at the base of the toe or at the distal digit of the toe, are a clue to look for some degree of internal rotation of the leg. Thanks to umbrella strollers, sling-like lawn chairs, mesh-bottomed office chairs, many of us have developed a baseline of internal leg rotation. The pressure at the base of the big toe pushes the entire toe laterally, potentially causing a bunion to form, and creating a cascade of turnout in the neighboring toes.


Calluses on the inside of the big toe can be caused by internal rotation of the legs.

  1. Calluses at the heel are sometimes caused from repeated harsh landings on the heel. If too much skin builds up here, it is common for it to split along painful fissures. Internally, undue stress here can give rise to heel spurs.


Repeated harsh landings on the heel can cause calluses on the heel. Photo courtesy Pixabay (40799).

  1. Corns and calluses at the base of the other toes are sometimes caused by “parking” the weight of the body forward on the feet while standing. The bones and ligaments in the front of the feet are much more delicate than the sturdy human heel. The transverse arch cannot withstand the entire weight of the body in a sustained way; alongside the degradation of the transverse arch, we might develop corns and calluses on the adjoining skin. Walking in a way that bends the foot backwards at every step, unprotected by contraction of strong underfoot muscles, is another action that both destroys the transverse arch of the foot and causes corns and calluses on the skin.

Parking the body's weight forward on the front of the feet can cause calluses at the base of the toes. Photo courtesy Pixabay (Broesis).

 

How to reverse the problem:

  1. Observe and learn from your corns and calluses. It can be hard to measure pressure under-foot without pressure plates and sophisticated technology, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that your skin is doing that job for you!

  2. Figure out how to improve the stance or action that is causing the problem. Common culprits are poor form in standing and walking. Learn to shift your hips back and counterbalance by hinging your body forward when standing. When walking, leave your heel down longer in every step you take, and learn to grip and grab the ground with your feet as part of your gait.


With enough foot muscle strength and a healthy gait, the foot more or less maintains its shape in all phases of walking. Photo courtesy Pexels (Renato Danyi).

  1. Use hot water soaks and a pumice stone to give yourself a jumpstart in improving the stresses on the soles of your feet. After all, calluses and corns, once formed, can cause further pressure on the underlying tissues, perpetuating the problem.


The Gokhale Method Foundations Course incorporates direct work with the feet, and your teacher can discuss in detail some of the lifestyle clues that can be gleaned from your feet.

Have you had problems with corns and calluses? What have you done about them? Are you inspired to try a modified stance? Please share your stories!

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Comments

Hi Esther,

Thank you for this post!  I feel it is such an important one and will be helpful for me but I need a clarification on the section #1 (Calluses on the Inside of the Big Toe).  Could you just restate that for me - perhaps without using the medical terms distal, medial and so on?  By "inside" I don't know if you mean inside as in toward the inside thigh, in-between the legs or inside of the foot so maybe in-between the big toe and the next one.  I'm sorry to have to ask but I really want to understand this and those medical terms confuse me.  Thanks!

Thanks for asking - there are probably others who are similarly confused.

Medial=inside=towards the body's midline (that slices the standing body into left and right halves)

Lateral=outside=away from the body's midline

Note: the "standard anatomical position," which is what all these directions are based on, is an upright standing position, feet flat on the ground facing forward, arms by the side of the body with palms facing forward.

Hello Esther, 

In the last year  I have noticed that the beginning of bunions developing, especially on the left side. What do bunions say about our posture, and what can we do to prevent it?

 

Thank you, 

Sophie

I have had a bunion on my right foot for 30+ years. Presently, It is at a dorment stage, but when it flares up, it is painful. Since I am a daily walker for exercise, the bunion flare-ups inhibit my lifestyle. I will be very interested to read Esther's comment regarding posture and bunion formation. Wishing everyone a New Year filled with Joy and Peace.

Candace

 

Sorry to hear about your bunions. The good news is that there's a lot you can do to help the situation.

  1. Understand and alleviate the physical stresses that caused the bunions. You especially want to check your standing and walking patterns. When standing, don't park your weight on the front of your feet. Also don't internally rotate your legs, as this stresses all your leg joints including the first metatarsophalangeal joint (bunion area). 
  2. Strengthen the muscles in your feet that form your arches to provide cushioning to your joints and a natural insole. Our favorite way to strengthen any muscle is to figure out its role in a natural everyday movement and restore that action as you go about your life. For the feet, it's natural to grip and grab at the ground with every step you take. 

I've seen some dramatic changes, including where it's difficult to see any residual traces of pretty prominent bunions. Chew on one piece of this at a time or, best, get some coachng from one of our qualified teachers. 

 

Hi Esther - 

"Learn to shift your hips back and counterbalance by hinging your body forward when standing."

This confused me. Should we actually lean forward when standing?

Thanks!

Most people park the hips forward and lean backward when standing, so being straight up and down feels like leaning forward.

Hi Esther,

Very interesting and timely article! I used to have a bunion on my right foot, but after losing 35 lbs. it no longer bothered me.  A few years later I developed one on my left foot; which bothers me sometimes and impedes walking - which I love to do.  Also on that left foot I developed a painful callous in the lateral plantar area; the "shoulder-arm" area.  I was just told by the podiatrist to keep it 'sanded down', and he said there's nothing else he can do, it has to do with my gait, which can't be helped.  I don't know what to do, and your article is the first one I've seen to even address the correlation between walking/standing and foot issues .... can you offer any advice on this?

Thank you in advance,

Barbara

 

Read my book. I've written as much as is practical for general situations. For particular situations, It's best to see a teacher. Good luck! This situation can almost certainly be improved!

"bends the foot backwards"-what does that look like?

 

It's the action that results in a crease at the top of a shoe going across the knuckles. When you learn not to "bend the foot backwards" (at the knuckles), your shoes will reamin pristine for much longer!

Sorry to comment 2 months late. I'm catching up.

Do I conclude correctly that small toes that rotate to present the nails outward are a sign of ~80 years of shoes too small for my feet?

I only recently put a dial caliper across my metatarsal and discovered that 4.25" width is unusually wide. I now wear size 12 5e (not easy to find) shoes - currently Brooks Ghost.

My primary shoes since 1997 (retirement) have been Birkenstock sandals at home and shoes or boots for shopping, walking, and hiking. I had the joy of a few pairs of made-to-measure Limmer shoes before cancer claimed Marianne's life.

At the suggestion of Adam Kemist, C. Ped, Los Altos, I wear a met-pad in my shoes.

Am I correct in concluding that a crease on the vamp of a leather shoe at the joint between the metatarsal arch and the toes is 'normal' and healthy or is this what you call 'bending backward' (toes contacting the ground and heel/arch lifted?)