What does posture mean? To many people it indicates the difference between someone who’s having a good day versus someone who’s down on their luck. Slumped shoulders and a hunched stance might indicate boredom or a lack of confidence, while an upright back and squared shoulders can convey confidence and interest.
Posture communicates plenty–but what posture communicates about your health is one of the most important things you should be aware of. Because it turns out that when your mom told you to sit up straight, she was on the right track. However, science tell us that when it comes to posture, she should have been just as worried about your feet!
Why? Keep reading!
Posture Basics, Head to Toe
Poor posture–hunching, sunken shoulders, and a slumped back–can have a dramatic effect on your muscles and ligaments. It can lead to injuries of the knees, heels, feet, back, and even difficulty with breathing and digestion. Bad posture is typically caused by–and exacerbated by–an imbalance in your muscles in strength and tension, and the muscles in your feet play a critical role. For example, tight calf muscles paired with weak plantar fascia can wreak havoc on your gait and foot posture (the alignment of the foot itself). This poor posture is a vicious cycle, causing the body (which naturally leans slightly forward) to tilt further forward or backward, adding additional strain to your feet and heels, and making plantar fasciitis–and posture–worse.
Postural Benefits of Wearing Orthotics
Wearing orthotics can have a tremendous positive impact on good posture, since the way the feet absorb and distribute impact has a big effect on the rest of the body. While orthotics are often seen as just a solution for heel pain, they can also be used as simple at-home solution to improve posture in the following ways:
Correct Gait Abnormalities
Your feet are your foundation every time you run, walk, jump, or stand. The impact from these simple daily activities, combined with the weight of the human body can place a great deal of strain on the heel and arch of the foot. Over time, as the body tries to compensate for this strain and pain, gait abnormalities can develop that result in poor posture.
Since orthotics help lift the arch to an optimal height and cushion the heel, the feet (and therefore the ankles, legs, hips, etc.) are more balanced, helping you avoid stumbles and falls that can injure or throw any number of the body’s muscle groups, bones, or tissues out of alignment and creating poor posture.
Pronation is where your foot turns too far inward as you step forward, causing the arch to flatten excessively. Pronation is associated with increased incidences of plantar fasciitis, heel pain, gait abnormalities–and poor posture. Orthotics can help correct overpronation while you walk.
Distribute Weight and Impact More Effectively
Because orthotics cushion and support the arch, you’re able to more effectively distribute and bear the weight of walking, running, and jumping. And when your arch is able to do its job in absorbing impact effectively, you’ll feel less aches and strain to your hips, back, and legs.
What to Look for in Orthotics to Improve Posture
There are a lot of different orthotics to choose from on the market. If you’re looking to improve your posture, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the following qualities:
Lightweight: Heavy orthotic shoes can negate some of the positive postural effects of using orthotics in the first place, and don’t allow for much flexibility in rotating between different pairs of shoes. Look for lightweight orthotic inserts that can be added to any pair of shoes.
Cost effective: There’s not much evidence that expensive prescription orthotics are any more effective than inexpensive orthotic inserts (some of which are more than 90% effective in treating heel pain and plantar fasciitis!) Balance quality with cost!
Cushioning and Supportive: The perfect blend of support and cushioning can be surprisingly hard to find. If you can crush your orthotic insert in your hand, it’s not likely to stand up very well to the rigors of walking, running, or jumping. Make sure your chosen orthotic is sturdy enough to stand up to some pressure while still providing cushioning for your heel and arch.
Fascia Bar Technology: This patented technology brings the arch to the optimal height for support and comfort during physical activity. This innovative technology helps the arch tremendously with weight distribution and impact absorption.
Other Ways to Improve Posture
Another great way to improve your posture from the feet up is by using simple stretches to make sure that your muscles and tendons are limber and not too tight. Taking a few minutes every day to stretch your calves, fascia, and other muscles and tendons in the feet and legs can make a world of difference. When your muscles are limber and stretched, you’ll avoid a situation where one group of muscles is pulling another forward or backward subtly, throwing off your stride–literally.
Proper stretching and properly supporting the feet and heels help ensure that your weight falls on the balls of your feet first as you walk–instead of your heel. With a heel-first gait (caused and exacerbated by bad posture), your feet absorb greater impact and aren’t able to propel the body forward as effectively–meaning you’re having to work extra hard to walk the same distance and putting additional strain on your fascia and heels.
Improving Foot Posture
As you work to improve your overall posture, make sure you don’t neglect the posture of your feet themselves. Improving overall posture is hard to do when your feet–which support the weight of your entire body–aren’t in the correct position!
Properly aligned feet should face forward, rather than one or both feet turning inward or outward. As you properly support your feet and stretch your calves, heels, and fascia, you should find that your feet align more properly and that physical activity becomes more comfortable as well. An additional method that can be taken to improve foot alignment if you’d like to see faster results is wearing a night splint that supports your feet and heels, and keeps the fascia limber even while you’re sleeping.
By correcting your posture from the feet up, not only will you look better–and communicate more confidence to the people around you–but you’ll feel better and avoid future injuries with a body in balance.