This post is written in partnership with OOFOS. As always, we only write about brands, products, and experiences we truly love!
When you’ve got aches and pains in your body, you probably focus only on treating the area that’s in pain, and maybe the surrounding parts if your physical therapist is on top of it. Hip pain? You’re treating the hip, quads, and IT band. Knee pain? Could be because of tight shin muscles. You get the idea.
But did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, you should be paying more attention to the health of your feet? After all, they’re probably overused and underappreciated—and as it turns out, the health of your feet has a major impact on the health of the rest of your body.
We talked to Linda Jaros, an OOFOS Brand Educator and Experience Specialist with 37 years of experience working with professional and amateur athletes as a sports muscular therapist specializing in rehabilitation. She explained how to take better care of your foot health for benefits that travel all the way up your body.
How does your foot health correlate with your overall health?
If you’re still skeptical that your feet have anything to do with the rest of your body, think again, advises Jaros, who’s specialized in helping professional athletes (like former long-distance runner and record holder Patti Catalano) through muscular therapy over the course of her career.
“The body doesn’t operate individually—it’s a unit,” she explains. “The fascial system has integrity to it, but when we start to compensate, we create compressions in the body that lead to tight muscles. When tissue is compressed, it can create biomechanic imbalances up through the joints of the body from the feet all the way up.”
She points out that we have over 8,000 nerve endings in our feet, and the weight of the body is constantly in the feet. If you’re not wearing activity-appropriate footwear, or you’re walking on hard surfaces without any support, your feet aren’t able to move in all planes of motion.
Speaking of footwear, Jaros says that many people are wearing shoes that are overly restrictive and keep their feet from moving as they were naturally designed to move—in all planes of motion.
“Overly restrictive shoes can put the deep (intrinsic) muscles of the feet to sleep,” she emphasizes. “And the number one cause of foot issues is improper footwear. In fact, nearly 80% of Americans over 21 have reported foot ailments at some point in their lifetime, carried over from childhood sports to their adult years. Children are starting sports during their growth years and continuing through adulthood… that’s a lot of work and stress on the feet and body.”
Three things to do for improved foot health
So, how do you actually take care of your feet in ways that go deeper than your standard pedicure?
First, says Jaros, try self-massage for your feet using a soft ball. She likes Pinky Balls the best, but says tennis balls can work as well; if you only have a golf ball, go easy and only use non-weight bearing techniques.
She offers a great experiment to experience what foot massage does for the whole body.
“Stand with feet hip-width apart and tune in to how your feet, legs, etc. feel to start. Then, just massage one foot and compare the feeling to the other foot. Notice if the side you massaged feels more connected up the leg to the hip and lower back,” she instructs.
Jaros recommends making this a part of your daily routine, pairing it with something you do every morning, like having your coffee. Through this simple practice, your nerve endings communicate with your central nervous system to improve your balance, which helps your body function better.
Another holistic tip Jaros loves is staying properly hydrated.
“If you’re not hydrated properly, you’re way tighter in all those muscles that attach into the bottom of the foot. Drinking water can change your whole body from your feet all the way up—it plumps the tissue up,” she shares.
Finally, make sure you’re wearing the right shoes for every occasion.
“Be careful wearing performance shoes and dress shoes,” Jaros warns. “Performance shoes are still creating compression when they’re being worn all the time.”
That’s not to say you should never wear high heels to a wedding or run errands in your cross-training shoes—it should just be a once-in-a-while thing.
“When you wear footwear that supports the healthy function of the feet, allowing the foot to move in all planes of motion as if walking on natural surfaces like grass or sand, the feet can better tolerate other dress and athletic footwear,” says Jaros.
What to avoid for better foot health
“I find that a lot of times when people are in pain, they begin to stretch,” Jaros says. “Don’t—that just aggravates where the pain site is. A skilled physical therapist and/or muscular therapist can help by softening the restricted tissue before flexibility and strengthening is done. People try to help themselves by going after where it’s hurting and over-stretching, but that can actually irritate or increase the pain. Be gentle, and be kind to your muscles.”
She’s also wary of barefoot walking or running on hard surfaces.
“People walk barefoot when they’re in pain or walk on hard surfaces, thinking it’s helpful. Instead, look for things that are actually going to help the natural function of your foot. Don’t wear things that are hard or that don’t allow your feet to move. Really take a look at whether your footwear is supporting the health of your feet and healing if injured,” she says.
At the end of the day, Jaros says to keep your foot health routine simple, but consistent.
“Don’t complicated it! Taking care of your feet is simple, yet very often, many people just don’t do it,” she says. “Make the commitment to yourself and your health. Many people wait until they’re in pain or injured—don’t let that happen it you, begin today.”