Homage to the Feet: Part One

by David Lauterstein

There are 206 bones in the body, 52 of them are in the feet! It’s amazing that these two small yet marvelously engineered structures can support our entire weight without being crushed or giving way. It’s little short of miraculous that they also constantly balance out the infinite varieties of motion going on in the body above them.

First, picture the bones of the lower leg and ankle. The shinbone – the stoutest in the body – is the tibia. Along the outside of the tibia runs the fibula. It also enlarges around its bottom to form what we think of as the outer “ankle bone”. The tibia is the main weight-beating one of the foot. It rests in turn on a bone which comes between it and the heel – called the talus. The talus looks like a flattened hammerhead facing forward. Ankle movement largely takes place between the tibia and the talus. The heel bone, the calcaneus, is the largest and strongest bone of the foot. Side-to-side movement of the foot happens largely at the joint between the talus and calcaneus. In front of the heel are two bones which help transmit the body weight through the inner and outer arches of the foot. These are the navicular and the cuboid. In front of the former are the 3 cuneiform bones. Beyond these and the cuboid lie the 5 long metatarsals. And, beyond these, the phalanges, better know as the toe bones or “tootsies!”

So what are the arches exactly? Please note the arches are not things, arching is something the muscles, ligaments and bones of the foot cooperate in doing. Looking at the inner longitudinal arch – this arch is formed by muscles which run on the underside of the foot from the heel to the toes. As these muscles contract, they bow the arch of the foot; much as tightening a bow string increases the curve of the bow. Often problems arise here when we wear shoes which restrict our feet so that their movement actually is more like hooves. The delicate muscles of the foot, being asked neither to lengthen nor shorten much, become stuck at one length. Thus, the foot can lose some of its capacity to arch and body loses some of its spring.

When working well, the muscles on the underside of the foot are the bow strings which bend the arch and our body an the arrow which the foot propells up and forward. But when is the last time you felt that? Try to imagine this – it can give you quite a lift!

The most true-to-life visualization of the foot and its arching is of a three-poled geodesic dome tent. In the tent, as in the foot, the lift and balance is essentially provided by tensions in the soft fabric, the muscles, fascia and ligaments. But the foot is a tent, which can also move of its own accord. Moreover, the foot is a tent moving of its own accord, which just happens to also be the base of a geodesic Eiffel Tower. This tower is the rest of the body, which itself is moving and gyrating around on its own. Now is this not a miracle indeed?

Homage to the Feet: Part Two will deliver insight on how to effectively touch these “little miracles.” Also, check out TLCschool’s upcoming massage continuing education workshops for foot-related knowledge.