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Thoughts About Orthotics

I often get asked to share my opinion about orthotics. You know, that hard shell that people pay hundreds of dollars for and get from a podiatrist which slide into their shoes to build up their arches. They are encouraged to wear them all the time and are told that the devices should end all their troubles. The orthotics will definitely have an effect on the person, because it changes how they stand and support their weight, and for many it can often be positive. The pain they had complained about may have disappeared once the arch builders got inserted. Because of this, many people will swear by their orthotics and wear them for years without getting replacements. They believe that if they were to remove them, all hell might break loose and their pain will return. There are others who have shared that they tried them, but it just made the pain worse, or that it bothered some other area of the body.

First, before I give you my opinion, let’s get a better understanding about the concept behind orthotics. The goal of these devices is to create proper arch shape to the three arches of the feet. That’s right, we have three arches in each foot. The one you’re more familiar with is called the medial arch and runs along the inside sole. The lateral arch is much shallower and runs along the outside sole. The third arch is called the transverse arch and runs over the roof of the foot. Much like the illustration of arches in a triangular formation (pendentives), the arches of the feet help support the weight of the structure above. When all three arches maintain proper shape, weight of the body is distributed through and down the arches.

Here are my 3 top dilemmas with orthotics:

  1. Think of the classic Roman arch. We still see it on a daily basis. Bridges commonly use such architecture. The stones connect together in a semi-circle with one stone at the very center shaped like an old-fashioned keyhole. This stone is called the keystone. It is the piece essential for allowing the weight above to be supported. The more pressure applied downward against the keystone and the rest of the arch the stronger the arch becomes. We have three keystones in our feet (talus, cuboid, and second cuneiform) for each of the three arches. What might happen if you were to drive force upward, under an arch? The stones would be pulled apart and the structural integrity of the arch would be lost. The bridge would crumble. So if the orthotic is a stiff arch placed under a foot that applies force upward against the underside of the foot, would that increase the natural structural integrity of your foot or would it make it even weaker?
  2. Have you ever needed to wear a cast?  Perhaps you broke your arm when you were a kid. Maybe you fell skiing and broke your leg. Do you remember what your broken limb looked like when the cast came off? Did you notice how the muscles had atrophied (shrunk)?  What do you think might be happening to the muscles surrounding the foot if a cast (orthotic) were to be inserted? What if you were to wear them for years and years?
  3. The foot is not meant to constantly maintain the high arch position all of the time. The foot is meant to allow the collapsing of all three arches with every step you take. By allowing the arches to drop allows the body to absorb impact and load muscles like a rubber band being pulled and then released in order to propel forward. If the arches were not allowed to drop, half of the way the foot should move is lost.  This means your joint mechanics are simply finding a new way to compensate. This may lead to more trouble and pain further down the road.  The pain may show up in a bunch of new places and rarely will the blame be placed upon the orthotics.

The bottom line is orthotics are just like a cast on a broken limb that people should not wear forever. I can see a place for the temporary use of hard-shell orthotics, but they should only be used as a means of correcting and teaching the body how to properly move. Soft inserts that allow the ability of the foot to pronate and supinate (when the arch drops and then lifts, respectively) are a nice alternative. The point is to re-educate the body how to move better without such crutches.

Now I wonder where you might be able to get help with such issues??? 🙂

For more info, watch my new video.

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The Eyes Have It!

Did you know that the only living tissue of the body exposed to the world are your eyes? Your hair, fingernails, toenails, and outer layer of skin are no longer living. With the exception of your eyes, all living tissue is protected by a barrier of dead cells. The eyes do so much for us it is hard to list them all. They allow us to take in information and record it indefinitely. They protect us from threats when objects come near. We use our vision to avoid bumping into things and getting hurt. The eyes inform us where we are in space. Are we tilting, right side up or upside down?

The eyes are also one of the key factors in our posture. If one eye is dominant, there might be a need to subtly rotate the body to accommodate the imbalance. If the eyes have a hard time focusing on objects, it might create a subtle tendency to lean forward and, over time, our posture may reflect that. In the long run, this potential distortion to our posture can bring about joint pain and soft tissue issues. All because the muscles of the eyes were not performing at their most ideal. Wait! What? Are you implying that retraining the muscles of the eyes could help my low back pain or shoulder issue? The answer is quite simply, yes. Eye movement is what directs body motion. So if the muscles which control eye movement are weak, it is possible that it would set up a chain reaction for the rest of the body. You can stretch all you want, but unless the visual muscles are addressed, you might not be addressing the true culprit.

Corrective eyewear is not the solution. In fact, glasses are more like a cast on a broken limb. They provide correction without demanding the surrounding muscles to wake up. If anything they cause further weakening and degradation. It is no wonder that people have to get stronger prescriptions for their eyeglasses over time. It is thought to just be part of the aging process, but what if it was because the muscles were atrophying and just needed to receive proper exercise? Glasses will also restrict natural eye motion. The rims of most glasses are opaque, so if someone needed to look wide, they would turn their head rather than their eyes. This also has a potential to reduce demand of the ocular muscles. Don’t even get me started on bifocals. The bottom line is that muscles need to be strong and work well to keep us happy and healthy, and the muscles of the eyes are no exception.

We would welcome anyone to come into the studio for a visual assessment any time. In so doing, you will find out which muscles are weak and get some exercise to help restore them to a better, stronger place. In the meantime, try these simple exercises, and see if they have any benefit to you. There needs to be a test to know whether or not they have a positive effect on you and your central nervous system (the overall governing system of the body and the best barometer to measure movement against). Try a simple toe touch or arm raise as a way of gauging if the brain liked the exercise.

With the toe touch, keep the legs straight, bend forward, and try and touch your toes. Get a feeling for what it feels like and what the range of motion is like. For the arm raise, keep both arms straight. Raise one arm at a time forward and overhead. Get a sense of which arm is more “gunked” up than the other. For testing purposes, use the arm which is more restricted to see if there is any change. Perform one of the following exercises. Retest the arm raise or toe touch and see if the movement improved. If it did, then that exercise is something you can benefit from. If it didn’t, put that exercise aside and try the others.

Exercise #1: Pencil Push Ups – Hold a pencil in one hand and extend the arm out in front of you at eye level. Focus on the pencil tip and slowly bring it toward the tip of your nose until you begin two tips. Return to the starting point and repeat five or six times.

Exercise #2: Near/Far Focus – Hold a pencil in one hand and extend the arm out in front of you at eye level. Focus on the pencil tip and then quickly focus on another object further away on a wall or off in the distance. Alternate focus between the near and far object as quickly as possible for 5-10 seconds.

Exercise #3: Eye Circles – Hold a pencil in one hand and extend the arm out in front of you at eye level. Focus on the pencil tip and begin making large clockwise circles with the pencil. After three circles, change directions for three more.

Remember to perform the toe touch or arm raise after each exercise. It is a quick and simple way to determine if there is a positive response from the central nervous system.  You might be surprised how something so seemingly obscure can be the cause of so much trouble.

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Case of the Broken Heart

I recently wrote a blog titled, “Posture: Chicken or the Egg.” The basic premise was how posture could dictate a person’s emotional state and vice versa. The simple act of lifting one’s chest could help lift a person’s spirit. Allowing the chest to drop could also encourage depression. Unfortunately, this concept seemed to be confirmed when a onetime client passed away last week.

To protect his anonymity, we will call him Blake. Blake came to see me last autumn because he and his wife were concerned about his posture and his overall health. He was 87 years old and presented a posture that looked like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was the typical, unfortunate shape many elderly individuals adopt – hunched over, head drooping down to his chest, knees buckling, with poor balance and very small footsteps. Such a posture is usually something that subtly and insidiously takes years to develop. It is not something you would expect to happen over just a couple of months, but that was the case when it came to Blake.

I was shocked when he and his wife told me he had been very active and in very good shape up until the beginning of the summer (just four months before walking in my door). He did not appear to be an active man. I suspected some type of physical trauma must have taken place for his structure to collapse to such a degree. Did he have a fall or injure his back? Did he break some bones or even sprain an ankle? Were there any surgeries or major illnesses in the last year or so? No. Nothing of the sort! Almost overnight he went from an energetic, active man to a weakened, Quasimodo-like figure.

Then his wife told me his passion in life had been to take his Christian studies into the local jails in an attempt to help the inmates turn their lives around. However, earlier in the year, due to circumstances beyond his control, permission to continue his missionary work had been denied. That, she felt, was when his posture took a turn for the worse. He was so emotionally connected to his work, that when it was no longer allowed, he went into a deep psychological and physical depression. Although he experienced temporary improvement with a few exercises, it was ultimately his psyche that was too hurt. Could this have ultimately brought on his demise?

Is it too farfetched and hard to believe? I don’t think so. It was only a few years ago that the New England Journal of Medicine reported about “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Officially called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (after the Japanese word for an octopus trap, which the affected heart resembles), is a form of acute heart failure. It is often temporary and benign, but can also result in death. Emotional events such as a breakup, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job — have been attributed as triggers.

This is not to say that Blake died of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It is merely to suggest that the mind-body connection is a lot more powerful than we westerners give it credit. It rather suggests that we should continue to strive for elements and actions in our lives which create a sense of peace, self-worth, and happiness. If not for an emotional state of balance but for a higher level of health and wellness.

What elements in your life do you value most? What would happen to your world if they were ripped away? What are the elements in your life that drain your happiness and self-worth? It is not the most pleasant thing to think about, but it may be worth some consideration. Are you able to design an “insurance policy” around the things that matter most and let go of the things that tax your health and happiness? If you can, it may just add years to your life and life to your years.

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