Friday, October 31, 2008

Fallen Arches - Fact or Fallacy?

Is there such a thing as "fallen arches"? Usually when people say they have flat feet or fallen arches, they have flexible feet, though there are exceptions.

The plantar fascia band on the bottom of the foot is similar to the bow-string of an archery bow. Over many years the plantar fascia band may gain length. Partially this is true because of bony growth called a heel or bone spur.

Another result of this fascia lengthening is that people think their feet are growing longer, but they didn't "grow". With the loosening plantar fascia band the foot elongates or spreads out. This is especially common if a person has put on a lot of weight. 

Oddly enough, the most flattening of the foot occurs on hard flat man surfaces. If you step in sand or soft earth, even a flexible foot is firmer than the ground, so instead of the foot giving to the ground, the ground gives-in to the foot. This is why Footform custom orthotics mimic the natural footprint in sand, so that the foot remains in a natural state while weight-bearing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prevent Fractures: Tips for Better Balance

Have you ever lost your balance? Of course you have, and it's usually no big deal. But if loosing your balance results in a fall, the result can be serious. According to a recent Swedish study, impaired balance is associated with triple the risk of hip fracture! 

As we age, bones may become more brittle and the risk for fractures increases. As a person gets more sedentary and moves less in their life, they lose flexibility and balance along with other types of fitness. This can happen regardless of a person's age, and is especially important for older people. 

Balance requires mobility in motion. Have you ever balanced a yardstick or pole vertically on the palm of your hand? You'll notice that to keep the pole vertical you must move your hand around. If you hold your hand still, the pole falls off your hand.

So how does this relate to keeping your balance as you're standing "still". Well, when you stand, if you keep your knees soft (slightly bent), your pelvis/hips are free to move. Your potential for mobility is increased. If you lock your knees (keep them straight), you lose mobility, and your balance worsens. This is a subtle difference, but a difference that is very important as we age. 

The ASBMR (American Society for Bone and Mineral Research) published the article, Lack of Balance Predicts Fractures. They cited a recent medical study in Sweden, and Karl Michaelsson, M.D., P.H.D., of the Uppsala University Hospital in Uppsala Sweden. In the study, impaired balance was associated with double the risk of any fracture!

Here are some tips to improve your balance as you stand:
  • Bend your knees a little EVERY time you stand AND Walk.
  • Keep your hips loose. Visualize the Hula dance and practice bending your knees and moving your hips in circles.
  • Feel the ground with your feet. Concentrate on "sinking" your weight through your feet into the ground.
For advanced practice, do all of the above while standing on one foot. Be sure to alternate feet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Using Gait Analysis to Spot Terrorists

The scientists at JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California) have taken gait analysis to a new high. So high, that scientist Adrian Stoica says it should be possible to identify a person (from a satellite) by the shapes and patterns their shadow makes as they walk across the earth. At least, this is what New Scientist Tech reported in their article, Shadow Analysis could Spot Terrorists by their Walk, Sept. 4, 2008. Stoica claims that satellite and aerial footage could be analyzed to extract the useful gait data necessary to catch a terrorist from the sky.

Yes, it's true that a person can be identified (more or less) by his gait, though it's not a fingerprint, more of a generalization. But the problem is with the premise behind this effort that says people cannot easily disguise their gait. People can change their gait. Everyday at my Footform Performance clinic in Bend, Oregon, we train people to change their gait.

Besides, this idea of satellite gait analysis seems like a really dumb idea that costs a lot of money. Every actor in a play or movie changes their gait to match their idea of the character they are playing. What happens if the person being looked for takes off his hat? Or puts one on? Maybe he'll wear a speedo one day and a raincoat the next. What happens if he opens an umbrella or walks over a pile of rocks? Gait Analysis from space is an unnecessary expenditure of brainpower and money.

Set an appointment at Footform for gait training and gait analysis and you'll walk back and forth in front of and alongside a mirror as I coach you. No shadows and satellites. Just down to earth gait analysis. You'll feel better for only a fraction of the cost of an aerial photo.
call for your appointment 541-389-4547

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Low-down on High Fashion Heels

Six inch dress heels for women are selling. In fact, according to today's article in The Wall Street Journal, "Women Fall Head Over Heels for Shoe Makers' Arch Designs", by Teri Agins, this super-high segment of the shoe industry is selling so well that Manolo Blanik says it accounts for about 30% of his company's business.

Despite the craziness of fashion, the most disturbing thing to me was to read was that Podiatric Surgeons are injecting cosmetic fillers such as Restylane or Juvederm to plump up the balls of the feet (metatarsal area of the foot) in an effort to ease the painful pressures on the forefoot caused by these high heels.

So here's what I have to say about these sky high shoes -- Don't wear them!  Sprained ankles, artificial interventions (like injecting cosmetic fillers), and strained joints(from the gait change the shoes impose) can cause injuries that can impact your life for years.

If you want to appear tall, improve your posture. But more than that, remember that others don't see you statically, like in a photograph or the way you see yourself in front of a mirror. People perceive your age and attractiveness before they ever get close enough to see if you have a wrinkle. How you carry yourself in motion can convey confidence, athleticism, flexibility and strength.   

High heels seen in motion promote the opposite of this. High heels hobble your body's motion and athleticism. You may think you look great standing still, but do you want to be hobbled and risk injury? Hobbling is defined as strapping together the legs of an animal (such as a horse)to slow it down and prevent it from straying, or to cause a person to limp. Psychologically, hobbling yourself for the sake of fashion creates a conflict between the fashion desires of your mind and the natural health of your body.

Your body has a wisdom and intelligence that knows when it's being impaired by a terrible choice of footwear. Choose to look at fashions that hobble your movement as promoting weakness rather than strength.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Repetitive Strain Means its Time for a Change

 I used to watch the Canadian TV comedy program, The Red Green Show (when my local Oregon Public Broadcasting OPB carried it). They often ended the show with a group of roughneck guys in the Possum Lodge repeating their credo, "I'm a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess."

To many people, change is a concept they resist. Repetitive strain injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, etc., are small injuries that are repeated until they become chronic. Keep doing the same thing and the injury only gets worse. The solution is to change your gait and stance habits. Albert Einstein is reported to have said, "The definition of insanity is to doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Here's the list of things you can do to eliminate repetitive strain by changing your habits:
  • Accept that you have to change.
  • Obtain the information/education that offers you an alternative to your usual habit.
  • Seek out training aids such as orthotics.
  • Think of a slogan or mantra to repeat to yourself as a reminder. My favorite reminder is, "Feet straight, bend the knees."
  • Visualize proper form. Picture in your mind someone who's moving the way you would like to move and emulate that vision whenever you think about it.
  • Affirm to yourself that you are improving. My favorite mantra is, "I'm getting better and better."

Change takes time. Don't be too hard on yourself or expect to much too soon. Positive change happens daily, one step at a time.

Read more of my Gait Training articles on this blog.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Athletics and Orthotics: Fencing

Orthotics are the necessary foundation when you're on your feet in a sport, wearing footwear. Whether you're in an athletic shoe, bike shoe, ski boot, water sandal, fishing waders, mountaineering boots, golf shoes, etc, shoe insert orthotics are key to top performance.  

You can't see the orthotic, but it's in the shoe enhancing the performance of the athlete. The orthotic facilitates optimal foot position by providing a cradle contour for the foot's optimal position on the ground, guiding the foot to the strongest biomechanical function. 

I began making custom orthotics in 1980 (in the Alpine Ski Industry) and have been learning and developing my expertise and shoe insole product ever since. Research involved in creating my custom footbeds is both observational and experiential. Not only do I make custom orthotics for a variety of athletes and skill levels, I also participate in sports so that I personally understand the demands an athlete makes on their body. 

Epee Fencing is a sport I took up about 3 years ago, following my 14 year old daughter Isabella Acosta Barna into the sport. Learning a new sport at any age is exciting mentally and physically. Isabella has inspired me to get off the sidelines and get on the fencing strip. Sharing the sport of epee fencing is a joy and a delightful bond with my teenage daughter.

Isabella is a natural fencer. At age 14 she won a Bronze in the under 20 age group (Junior) at the U.S. Fencing Summer Nationals 2008 in July, also earning her "A" rating as a fencer. Comparatively, I'm a duffer, but I workout hard with Isabella and she's training me well. This year I did win 3rd (a Bronze medal) in the Oregon State Games Veterans Epee division. The competition was held at the Northwest Fencing Center in Beaverton, Oregon where Isabella is trained by the head coach, Sebastian Dos Santos.

Sports not only develop fitness, they are important for relationships of all types. My involvement with fencing has led me to volunteer at our local club, the High Desert Fencing Club in Bend, Oregon. I'm the President and along with a Board of supportive parents we're building a non-profit club that develops young fencers in the Central Oregon area. It's a great place for kids and adults to connect through sports.

Here are some photos of Isabella and I fencing. The top photo is of me (on the left) fencing in a regional competition at the Northwest Fencing Center in Beaverton, Oregon. The second photo is of Isabella in a North America Cup competition.  Of course, both Isabella and I are wearing Footform orthotics

The Northwest Fencing Center in Bend, Oregon is a 501C3 non-profit. All donations are tax-deductible. Contact me at my Footform Performance clinic phone 541-389-4547 to make a donation to the Fencing club. Donations pay for both infrastructure (rent, equipment, etc.) and for youth scholarships.  Fencing skills are in demand at good universities and are a big plus on any young person's college application

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Walk with Gravity (But Remember to Smile!)

Gravity is the relentless force that you feel as weight on your feet. Good thing, because we'd all be flying off into space without gravity. So what is so important about remembering the basic law of gravity?

There are 2 ways to think about gravity as it relates to your gait. You work with gravity or you fight it.
  • When you fight gravity your gait is mostly up on your toes (or forefoot).
  • Work with gravity by bending your ankles and sinking into the ground (exagerate ankle bend so that your entire foot is on the ground).
Here's a test you can do to find out how you're working with gravity.
  1. Stand with your knees and ankles slightly flexed.
  2. Now bounce gently.
If your first movement is up -- you're bouncing on your toes and tend to be working against gravity. (And developing strains and pains in your body.)

If your first movement is to slightly bend your knees and go down before you go up, you are working with gravity. Good for you!

Bouncing "up" mostly on your toes doesn't use your entire foot and places strain on your toes and forefoot. You'll tend to lean forwards to move with each step. The result is strain and eventually pain.

Bending your knees and ankles has the opposite effect. Your balance becomes grounded, steady and secure. You expend less energy and are stable.

So what do you do when you walk so that you are working with gravity? Keep your feet straight and bend your knees and ankles as you walk. Exaggerate the movement when you first practice this. Integrate knee and ankle bend into every step of your day and you'll find your balance and muscle tone improving and minor aches and pains related to walking will diminish. Less pain and more strength is surely a reason to smile.