Friday, May 3, 2013

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See ya.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Shoes Kids Need

When our now 5 year old son started to walk, I proudly bought him his first pair of outside shoes. It was a fairly sturdy sneaker kind of shoe. A shoe pretty much like this one, just much smaller and not as pink:
You might recognize this shoe as a shoe most kids wear in day care or school - at least they do where I live.
Had I known what I know now, I would have looked for a shoe with a flexible sole, zero heel, zero toe spring (i.e.that upward slant on the sneaker in the pic) and enough space for the toes to spread - the kind of shoe my children wear now in and outside daycare. 

Why? Because a shoe on our feet is like big fat sturdy gloves on our hands. It immobilises. Overtime the many muscles that live in the foot atrophy (weaken) and that in turn has a negative impact on the overall health of the tissues in the foot. The nerves inside weak muscles are not good sensors of or responders to information - think tripping over objects or even over your own foot. Weak muscles are also poor stabilizers for the ankle and even impact the stability of knees and hips.

What makes the feet so special?

Out of the 206 bones we have in the body, 25% of those live in the feet - 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot. The same goes for muscles and nerves: 25% of our total live in the feet.
This amazing anatomy gives the foot the potential for 1001 little movements: Imagine walking barefoot through the forest and navigating the uneven terrain with big or small rocks, fallen tree branches and slippery slopes. Our feet are equipped with the ability to sense every little unevenness of this terrain and to deform to meet the changing shape of this environment. Nice!

Except that our feet spend their whole life inside shoes and hardly ever get the chance to put this amazing ability to use.

What shoes do to our feet

Shoes protect the feet from the environment but have the sorry side effect of putting somewhat of a cast around the foot. When it comes to shoes, we think the more stablity a shoe offers, the better for the foot. But we forget that we were given a ton of muscles and joints inside the foot and that its the job of skeletal muscle to move and stabilize joints. 

Let's go back to the imagery of the barefooted walk in the forest. Imagine you do it with your tight feet from a lifetime of shoe wearing. Your foot won't deform to meet the shape of a rock. You might trip over a branch or over your own foot. Without the many foot muscles working in sync, the ankle takes the brunt of the impact with every single step. Throw in some tightness of the calves (which we do have too from wearing shoes and sitting all the time) and the knee will hurt. Without restoring some foot mobility, the barefooted walk might do more harm than good.

I injured my foot last fall by missing the last step of our staircase. Turned out my foot had been slowly degenerating without me noticing it. Don't tell my mom but the shoes she bought us had lots of stability features but didn't foster the development of healthy feet. Obviously. So nice when you can blame your mom :)

Maintaining foot mobility in children - what to look for in a shoe

The sole of the shoe ...... should be flexible enough for the foot inside the shoe to deform to meet the shape of the environment while still offering enough protection from the environment. 

The heel of the shoe ... should be free of any kind of elevation as it brings the natural heel of the foot higher than the front of the foot. Even the smallest positive heel changes the geometry of the foot bones (how they relate to eachother) and therefore also impacts the alignment of bones in the legs, pelvis and spine. Alignment changes impact the muscles' ability to generate appropriate force. (You can read more about how heels impact your whole body alignment in my last blog post).

If you are after foot mobility for yourself or your child, the shoe should have zero heel. Sneakers do have a heel! Cute Mary Janes for girls also have a heel. A small heel for a child translates into a huge geometrical change!

The toe box ... is where the front of the foot is placed. It should be big enough for the toes to fit in easily without squishing. Toes should have enough room to spread and wiggle. The front of the foot should also not slant upwards as in the above picture of that sneaker, especially if the sole is stiff - the whole foot including the toes need to have contact with the ground.

The upper of the shoe ... is the material that makes the shoe. It shouldn't be too tight (the toes can't wiggle and move) or too loose. Flip flops or crocks worn without the strap at the heel offer a flimsy attachment to the foot and the toes have to grip hard to keep the shoe on - toe gripping does not lend itself at all to a natural gait pattern.

The best advice I can give parents with toddlers that are just beginning to walk is to allow those little feet to develop naturally and to keep them barefoot as much as possible or in socks with rubber dots on the sole or in Robeez or Soft Star shoes. Many water shoes also fulfill the above criteria and come in all sizes and offer a cheap alternative and are readily available in stores come Spring and Summer. Those shoes also make great choices for daycare or school.

And the same shoe criteria apply to adult feet of course. For a resource guide for minimal shoes, click here. 

I quickly took a photo of some of summer/indoor shoes we have lying around:

The second best advice I can give is to take yourself and the kids to walk on natural ground to let the feet go through a variety of little motions. I let the kids walk on people's lawns in the summer when we go to the playground. How about barefooted walks on forest trails, beaches or at the very least in your own back yard.

And the third best advice has to do with the very fact that we don't live in a natural environment. Our streets are hard asphalt and the times we do go walking, on uneven terrain or not/in minimal shoes or not, is limited. Older children and adults can restore foot mobility with little exercises: spread the toes as wide as you can, try to lift one toe at a time, use your foot to pick up objects (marbles, socks, ect) and put them where they belong. I, for example, try to build a habit of using my feet to pick up clothes that lie on the floor. If I do it, my kids will eventually do it. I hope :)

To get more ideas for what you and your children can do with your feet and to be inspired by somebody who does everything with her feet read this post  by a fellow Restorative Exericse Specialist.

And if you live in Ottawa and you have foot pain or you would like to transition to minimal shoes or you have a child whose foot development you are worried about, call me to book a session. In addition to being a brandnew Restorative Exercise Specialist, I also certified as a Healthy Foot Practitioner last year. And so did Jillian from LiveAligned - another Ottawa resource.  

More reading: 
Dr Rossi, podiatrist articles:
Why shoes make 'normal' gait impossible
Footwear: the primary cause of foot disorders
Children's footwear: launching site for adults ills

Book: Katy Bowman Every Womans Guide To Foot Pain Relief

A collection of abstracts and links to online material can be found here.

'And those healthy little feet of your children - keep them strong as they are now by giving your boys and girls the right kind of shoes and by teaching them to walk like and Indian - with toes straight ahead.' a short article about foot health written by a life insurance company!!! and published in 1932 in National Geographic Magazine.

'Shoes make 'normal' gait impossible. How flaws in footwear affect this complex human function'. This is the title of one of a series of articles Dr Rossi, a podiatrist, wrote in 1981.

1. Optimum foot development occurs in the barefoot environment.
2. The primary role of shoes is to protect the foot from injury and infection.
3. Stiff and compressive footwear may cause deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility.
4. The term "corrective shoes" is a misnomer.
5. Shock absorption, load distribution, and elevation are valid indications for shoe modifications.
6. Shoe selection for children should be based on the barefoot model.
7. Physicians should avoid and discourage the commercialization and "media"-ization of footwear. Merchandising of the "corrective shoe" is harmful to the child, expensive for the family, and a discredit to the medical profession.
Staheli, LT Pediatrics [1991, 88(2):371-375]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mindful Standing

Last weekend I came back from certification week at the Restorative Exercise Institute. One day after I got home, my little 15 year old sister came to visit from Germany. As she came out of customs at the airport, I first saw her lovely happy face and then I saw her high heeled boots!!!!!! I managed to keep my mouth shut until the next day but then I couldn't restrain myself and she got the high heel talk!

The high heel talk goes a bit like this and really is all about basic geometry:
Imagine you are made of steel and you stand barefooted on the ground. You would be standing in a vertical line perpendicular to the ground. Now image you stood in shoes with a heel on. You would be leaning forward. In fact you would be falling on your face. 

Now, we are not made of steel but of living tissue with joints and muscles. Joints can distort and muscles can contract and pull you back to prevent you from falling. So, you think you stand pretty straight with your high heeled shoes on. Whats the big deal? 

While it doesn't necassarily look to you like you are pitched forward, every cell in your body knows you are. And especially your feet, knees, hip and spine. Not to mention the bone building receptors in your hips. And its not just stilettos. A regular running shoe easily has a 1/2inch (or more) heel.  So we are talking about positive heels more than high heels.

The positive heel talk always goes better with an illustration or two.

image adapted from Rossi:  1: barefoot, aligned stance;  2: displacement of body if body was rigid on 2'' heel, 3: adjustments of body on 2'' heel

At the Restorative Exercise Institute: demonstrating the body's displacement by approx. 1'' positive heel

My sister seems to listen to me because those boots have been untouched since she got the talk.
The next day I took a picture of her standing at our standing work station checking her facebook updates:

She looks alot like the person on the far right in the Rossi image above. Even without shoes on!

Can you see how her pelvis is pitched forward? And how big the curve in her lower back is from thrusting her rib cage forward and pulling her shoulders back? In this picture, her hips are over the front of her feet (see the red line?).

To stand in alignment, the red vertical line would need to go through her hips, knees and heels. Only then her joints would be weightbearing optimally and we could be talking about long-term foot, knee, hip and spinal health. And optimal bone generation in her still developing hips, legs and feet. And a  healthy pelvic floor for giving birth naturally one day. But she doesn't want to know about that yet :)

So, I showed her how to do calf stretches and the psoas release. The next day I taught her how to back up her hips so they are over her heel. She is a good learner:

Because her calves and hamstrings are so tight, her torso leans forward as a result of backing up her hips. That's ok. Because I told her I'll buy her new shoes (minimal shoes of course!) if she does calf stretches every day from now on and to also work on her standing alignment every time she is standing.

Eventually, she'll be able to get her torso back while standing with her hips over her heels.  

I'm going to be in Germany for the summer. The pressure is on :)

A few days later I asked her to check her facebook so I can take a picture. Obviously, she did it more mindfully knowing what she now knows. But I didn't give her any feedback. I just took the picture:

Not bad. I particularly like the look of her torso. There isn't as much tension in her upper back. 

The best part is that I noticed that she was standing more mindfully in general.

Can you see the blue calf stretching device? She has been using it every day. Because she wants new shoes more than healthy knees. Whatever... 

PS: Imagine you are not 15 years old but a mom carrying the extra load of a baby or toddler! I imagine you truly ARE interested in all that pelvic floor and core and knee and spinal health stuff. Your new daily fitness routine is to notice when you stand like this:

And to immediately correct yourself so you stand more like this: 
Then email or phone me to tell me how great you feel or to ask me questions or to book a session to learn more :)

And in any case, I highly recommend you read Katy Bowman's book called Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet. It could also be called Every Woman's Guide to Fixing your Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. It also lays out some first steps to a long-term fix of your mummy tummy. And I could go on and on and on.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

About Kangaroos and Fitness and 2013

It’s only 2 years ago that I started my own business and called it Kangaroo Fitness.

I was a social work graduate and a new mom and new Canadian with an entrepreunal spirit and newfound joy for teaching fitness classes for moms and moms-to-be.  With my Personal Trainer and Pre/Postnatal Fitness Specialist certification received, all I needed was a business name. It took me 5 minutes to come up with Kangaroo Fitness. Four and a half minutes searching the internet for ‚How to find a good business name‘ and the other 30 seconds to figure that a Kangaroo is both maternal and sporty and that Kangaroo and Fitness are two words that look pretty good next to eachother. Turned out that it wasn’t a bad choice. If you are ever in search of a business name, ask me :)

Except that I’m not so happy with it anymore. I still love the Kangaroo. More than ever actually. Did you know that a newborn kangaroo is about 2cm long and weighs less than 1 gram and is strong enough to crawl into its mothers pouch? Pretty cool.

I also read that the kangaroo got its name after Europeans asked the native Australians what that animal was called. They responded saying ‚I don’t understand‘ which sounds like ‚kangaroo‘ in their language. The Europeans thought this was the name of the animal and this is how the kangaroo got its name.

Kangaroo Fitness  - ‚i don’t understand‘ fitness. Funny. Because it is very much what I’ve been contemplating this past year. Fitness. What does it mean? I don’t get it. Or rather I think that we as a culture don’t get it. Have we been brainwashed by the fitness industry?

Fitness is defined as ‚being physically fit and healthy‘. To be ‚fit‘ means to be suitable to fulfill a particular role or task. That leaves room for a lot of interpretation. Good. The key words here are particular role or task.

Is it the task to be able to do 3 sets of  15 biceps curls with that followed by 25 push-ups?

Or is it the motherly role to lift and carry a toddler without getting a back spasm when turning over to grab the diaper bag? Is it to run a marathon or is it to be able to run after your kids every day without leaking urine? Is it to get through some insane workout once or twice a week or is it to be able to enjoy a nice long hike in the woods without having foot pain the next day?

And how about being pregnant and not have pelvic or lower back pain? To have a smooth vaginal birth without blowing through your pelvic floor or abdominal muscles? To have birthed children and not say that the babies have ruined your body? To be 30, 40, 50, 60 years old and not have any of the ailments that seem to come with age in our culture? Or how about being able to squat in order to pee in the woods (everybody has to do this at least once a year, yes?) and not fall over or pee on your shoes in the process?

How about being able to stand for more than 5 minutes without leaning against a wall or table or without tucking your tailbone under or bending a knee and hiking one of your hips up? Or how about being able to do this for more than 5 seconds?

You could be ‚fit‘ in terms of being able to get through a tough workout. You could even be ‚fit‘ in terms of looking the part. But do all your body parts move effortlessly and are all your body parts healthy?

I contemplated changing my business name because I don’t offer ‚fitness‘ anymore and I want this to be clear to everybody.  But then I really like Kangaroo Fitness and I still want to attract people who subscribe to the fitness paradigm and introduce another way of thinking about our body and what it should be able to do. It works for the people who committ. A client of mine who was really into working out and believed that more is better recently wrote in a testimonial that she learned to 'work out smarter not harder'. Her back pain dissappeared and her diastasis recti closed. And she didn't do crazy amounts of exercises every day. A bit of education on body mechanics and a willingness to commit to using her body for movement and using her body for mindful and aligned movements. Just the way our bodies were designed to be moved, really. 

So, I'll keep the word 'fitness' in the name. Because I want more clients like her :)

I’m working on a new website and I’ll have a new logo and the new tagline will be something like this:

Kangaroo Fitness – Aligning Fitness With Natural Movement. Or maybe not. Because the word natural movement is loaded with preconceived ideas too. I'm not telling everybody to take off their shoes and go barefoot running. Just saying. So maybe its going to be: Kangaroo Fitness - Aligning Fitness With Everyday Movement. What do you think?

I’m excited about 2013 and grateful for all the ups and downs that helped me get to where I am right now.  And thanks to YOU reading my blog!

PS: Here is a challenge!

'Work out' by just standing in alignment every time you are standing.
Read this post about proper stance from my teacher and biomechanist Katy Bowman and follow the instructions:

Let me know how this feels. And if you want an extra challenge, stand in this aligned stance while holding your baby or toddler or shopping bags! No need to go to the gym!

Cheers to an aligned and healthy 2013!