Our feet carry us everywhere, but how often do we put aside time to stretch and train them to ensure a long life of pain-free walking? Podiatrist Dr. Emily Splichal, the founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy and creator of various barefoot training programs, wants to put foot health at the forefront by emphasizing the importance of, perhaps surprisingly, strong core and gluteus maximus muscles. From athletes to New York City professionals, Splichal re-trains her patients to walk lighter, engage muscles, and increase stability throughout the body with exercise routines and meditations.

“Individuals can integrate barefoot training and techniques into their daily lifestyle,” Splichal told Medical Daily. “So that they can wear the shoes that they enjoy, live better, and pain-free. As a podiatrist I think people need to pay attention to their foot health just as much as they pay attention to their oral health, in the same sense of becoming a regular part of their routine. Don’t wait until you have foot pain.”

Dressed in yoga attire, Splichal shows her barefoot class how to regain balance in the hips and alignment with foot training. By shifting weight onto one side with a slight bend at the knee, Splichal demonstrates how to contract the right muscles and “turn them on” for exercise. She then spreads her toes out wide to stimulate sensory and nerve information to the bottom of the foot, which helps provide stability and balance to the body’s center of gravity.

Bend the knee lower and the arch of the foot increases as the ball of the foot drives into the floor, giving your body a better alignment. Your body’s goal is to maintain balance, and your feet structure how the rest of the body functions. Nearly all of the patients she sees have injuries that could have been prevented by just engaging and stimulating the gluteus maximus, Splichal said. By working on the strongest muscle in the body, foot injury rates would drop drastically.

"Understand the importance of the foot and how you can incorporate these simple techniques to get more out of your activities, day, and sports, and learn how to avoid injury. Our feet are the foundation for the rest of your body," she said. "If they are not in good shape or posture, the rest of the body can’t be because that’s how deeply integrated the body is. When our feet get tighter and tighter from a fascial or tissue perspective, that tissue is also connected to the entire body — the knees, the hips, the back, the shoulders, the jaw — it goes all the way up."

5-Minute Foot Reset

Foot Training And Yoga
Yamuna Foot Wakers Photo courtesy of Medical Daily

Splichal says lot of times she sees patients who, for example, have chronic hip pain that’s been caused by the opposite foot. It’s often caused by the way humans sit, stand, and walk. Over time the body’s feet and ankles become tighter and tighter, especially if they’re constricted in work shoes all day. The feet take the most stress on the body, especially walking on New York City’s concrete, which is why people need to get in the routine of doing a “daily reset” every day, as Splichal calls it. Foot training can help both men and women walking around in uncomfortable constrictive work shoes or high heels avoid pain.

Every morning and right before bed, she recommends patients put aside five minutes to reset their feet by using golf balls or Yamuna Foot Wakers, which are specially designed bumpy half balls. By standing and rolling your foot over hard balls or Wakers, you release the fascia and connective tissue. Fascia is a specialized system of densely woven spider web-thin structure. It weaves itself through the body and interprets messages sent through every muscle, bone, nerve, artery, vein, and internal organ. The feet have links throughout the body, creating pain in unusual places when they’re ignored.

“We take our feet for granted,” yoga instructor Yamuna Zake, founder and teacher at an international wellness company Yamuna, said to her class as they learned how to use the Wakers. “If you screw up your foundation, your whole body is off center. The amazing thing about your foot is that it may hurt at first but constantly corrects itself. Do you feel that? That’s your body going back into starting mode.”