Many experts believe that feet are an indicator of overall health. A change in your feet – whether on the skin, nails or how your feet feel can be an indicator of other problems in the body.

“Everything starts with the feet,” said Aaron Leonard, PT, DPT at Step & Spine Physical Therapy. “Because the feet are the body’s first point of contact with the ground, many health issues that people face can be prevented if the feet are healthy and functioning properly.”

Understanding the prevalence of foot problems and the reason people have them is the first step toward improving your overall health.

Poor Circulation

Foot circulation is critical for overall health. While gravity helps blood get to the feet, good circulation gets the blood moving efficiently from the feet back up to the heart. Good toe movement helps the blood circulate appropriately through the body. Constrictive footwear, tight toe boxes or over supportive arches act as braces that hold feet in a stiff position, prohibiting circulation and proper movement.

Stiff Toes, Heels, and Ankles

Toe, heel and ankle flexibility is essential for proper walking. “Issues in the feet and ankles can snowball into problems all the way up the body, from the knees to the hips to the back and neck,” said Aaron.

A stiff big toe decreases your ability to flex and push off correctly when walking, forcing the ankle to rotate out when taking a step. Stiffness in the ankles decreases the range of motion in the hips, which forces you to take small steps when walking. Tightness in the heels causes tight Achilles tendons and calf muscles, which lead to a reduced range of motion in the ankles, stiff hips and low back pain.

Improper Alignment

Imagine your feet as the roots of a tree. They help stabilize your body during movement. If your body is not in proper alignment, decreased strength, stiffness, and eventually, pain can persist. If tightness causes your body to compensate for the inability to move in a normal path, physical therapy is critical.

Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Foot dysfunction often happens because of wearing inappropriate shoes. If you’re spending your days in high heels, your feet will pay the ultimate price. And stilettos aren’t the only shoes that wreak havoc on feet. Any heeled shoe or pointed toe bed (men’s included) can move the feet out of their natural position and cause toe pinching. Choose shoes that are flexible to allow mobility and flexibility and a toe bed that is rounded.

The Case for Orthotics or Not?

Your feet must continuously transform based on what they are doing. Feet are meant to be rigid when pushing off to take a step and flexible and cushioning in landing. Orthotics are braces for feet. If your foot is weak or stiff, an orthotic is often prescribed to facilitate correct movement. If bracing is necessary, investigate your orthotic options to ensure the unique needs of your feet are met. Even when you have orthotics, you can work to strengthen, mobilize and love your feet.

Start paying attention to how foot health plays a role in your overall health. If you have concerns about your feet or lower extremities, schedule an evaluation with one of our expert physical therapists. Your feet could be wreaking havoc on other parts of your body. Let us help you feel better.