“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Leonardo da Vinci
Did you know that a quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet? There are 26 bones in each adult foot, that’s 52 bones out of a total of 206 in your whole body.
Even more incredible is the fact a baby starts life with around 300 bones in their tiny body. Most are still soft, flexible cartilage, which will ossify (harden) and fuse together over time. The bones of the feet take their time to develop and this process of hardening and fusing is not complete until the late teens, in some cases the early twenties.
In addition to bones, there’s a complex system of muscles, responsible for movement; ligaments, attaching bones to one another to stabilise joints; and tendons, attaching muscles to bones and aiding movement. All the elements of this system need to work in harmony for the body to function effectively, and move naturally and comfortably. If any element is injured or damaged it can have a knock-on effect through your body, as it attempts to compensate.
Our feet are our foundation, critical to so much of what we do, if any part of our foot is not functioning correctly, the effect can be quite dramatic. For example, if you sprain your ankle, your walking pattern and body position will change significantly. The opposite side of your body will bear more weight, putting more pressure on the joints on that side, your spine will be out of alignment and your muscles will be working hard to hold your body differently. Beyond the pain in your ankle, you might tire quickly, experience joint and muscle pain or develop a headache, our bodies are amazingly interconnected.
We’re also covered, inside and out, with sensory receptors, continually sending messages to our brain about what’s happening in our body and in the world around us. These sensory nerve-endings register different stimuli (heat, taste, smell, light, pressure, etc), generating and sending hundreds of nerve impulses to the brain every second, where they are interpreted and an appropriate response initiated.
Our bodies are constantly in motion, with proprioceptors sending detailed information about the position and movement of each part of our body, both in relation to other parts and to our environment.
There are more nerve-endings per square centimetre on the soles of our feet than anywhere else on our body. With our feet often being our only direct connection with our environment, this information being sent to our brains helps us adapt to different terrains, react to temperature changes, move efficiently, keep our balance, and much, much more! When it comes to experiencing the world around us, our feet have a significant role to play, never more so than when learning to walk.
So going back to those gorgeous, chubby little baby feet, with that layer of fat protecting the soft, developing structure of the foot. As your little one grows and becomes more active and mobile the foot will begin to slim down, it’s shape will gradually change from being triangular (wide at the toes, narrower at the heel) to more elongated, and by the time your child is about 5 or 6 the structure of their feet will begin to resemble that of an adult foot, however, they still has a lot of growing and developing to do!
Every movement, from kicks in the womb, to stretching, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, standing, cruising, taking their first independent steps, walking, running, jumping… each one is strengthening the muscles and support system to ensure their body is ready for the next stage of development.
In order to develop a strong, stable foundation, at each stage the foot needs to be free to flex, stretch, splay, move and adjust. Anything you put on the feet, including socks and babygrows, should move in tandem with the feet and not inhibit their natural movement.
Footwear that restricts the foot, puts pressure on a particular area, excessively limits sensation through the soles of the feet, is too heavy, has a raised heel, provides too much cushioning or support, or otherwise causes the foot to behave unnaturally, such as having to grip with the toes to keep shoes in place, can alter the way the foot develops, result in weaker muscles, and affect walking pattern and body alignment.
Wearing well-fitted, appropriate footwear throughout childhood and their teens is the best way to ensure a lifetime of fit and healthy feet, good posture, and, hopefully, good footwear habits.