Your feet are complicated creatures and when they hurt…well, have you ever heard the term “my dogs are barking”? That idiom, which I will explain later because the story is that good, means that your feet are making noise. Painful feet let you know when they aren’t happy, don’t they? So let’s see what tui na and other forms of traditional Chinese bodywork can do for you and your soles. Ideally, you will finish this essay with some new knowledge about your feet and some great ideas for self-care.
A passing familiarity with anatomy helps. Did you know that the foot has twenty-six bones and thirty-three joints? All total, that’s about 25% of the total number of joints in your body.
With each step you take, those bones and joints all work hard to keep you upright, balanced, and moving in the direction that you want to go. Walking is a complex procedure and if you add high heels to the mix, or an off-balance center of gravity, or injury, just to cite a few examples, it is no surprise that your feet can start hurting. The anatomy of the foot and what the foot is called upon to do mean that this very precious body part needs some love and care and not just after your feet start aching.
Bottom line? Prevention and awareness can be of great benefit to foot health. Knowing how lovely and complex your feet are can inspire you to treat your feet well. Really, don’t you think the bones of the feet are marvelous? Take a look at this useful and short clip on the foot’s anatomy, here, and see what a marvel the bones of your feet are–you will be amazed!
The foot is constructed to get the job done but when there are problems they really do make themselves felt. Some issues are the result of something other than anatomy. A person with diabetes and poor circulation, for instance, can end up with foot ulcers. Someone who cuts their toenail improperly can end up with a nail embedded in the cuticle region and that is excruciatingly painful. Injuries like stubbed toes are no kind of fun. The big ones, though, are a the result of anatomy in particular, and these would be the well-known plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma. Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammation of the fascia along bottom of the foot and a Morton’s neuroma is a condition where there is a pinched or inflamed nerve between the foot bones (usually the third and fourth but it can be between the second and third bones). Because there is so much going on with feet and the feet do so much for you, it really is crucial to take good care of yourself and good self-care goes from top to toe, it really does.
There are several ways to address foot problems. Depending on the severity and on your own circumstances, it may be smart to have an appointment with a podiatrist to start. Generally, if it’s a diabetic ulcer or a vicious ingrown toenail, you really do want to get things taken care of in a speedy fashion. Otherwise? You may consider a few private yoga lessons to work on your balance and to gain body awareness. A visit or three with a really good personal trainer might help you find ways to strengthen your weak areas and enable you to walk with a healthier stride. Soaking your feet in a nice warm epsom salt soak can be useful too. And, of course, traditional Chinese medicine has a lot to offer you if your feet hurt.
Acupuncture can be of great benefit to people with Morton’s neuroma and/or plantar fasciitis. Another outstanding treatment for either of these conditions is the traditional Chinese medical modality known as tui na. (I’ve written a lot about tui na, so if you are new to the subject, scroll down to the links at the end of this article for more information about traditional Chinese medical massage). Any good tui na treatment can also include cupping, gua sha, or moxibustion. In the United States, people generally are at least passingly familiar with reflexology, or the use of specific pressure points on the foot or hands to achieve a certain wellness goal.
Acupressure and tui na on the feet can do the same as reflexology and maybe even more for you, depending on the skill of your practitioner. There are traditional Chinese schools of thought that prefer treating health issues by way of the distal, or furthest, points needed to effect change. This approach in Chinese medicine relies on the same premises as those of reflexology: you press certain points on the feet (or hands or other far-away-from-the-issue point) to effect change elsewhere. The feet are rich venues for overall health nurturance whether or not they hurt and whichever treatment modality you employ.
And how do I approach matters? How do tui na practitioners turn aching feet into happy soles?
It really depends on the problem, but when I work on people’s feet for issues like plantar fasciitis or Morton’s neuroma, I do not just focus on the feet. Your ankles and calves also factor into the treatment. I also look into how your hips feel and what your posture in general looks like. Opening up the channels (or smoothing the flow of the fascial planes, if you prefer terming it in a more Western biomedical way) can release the impinged nerve in the second case and unbind painful soles in the first. It generally takes several appointments, but if you are willing to follow the program and make changes at home you really can up your chances of avoiding surgery. (And if you want to read a longer article on the subject of Morton’s neuroma and tui na by someone who is adamantly against surgery as–I must be honest–am I, go here).
If the issue in question is generalized ache or fatigue, my focus probably will remain on the feet, themselves, although a conversation about lifestyle may be in order. In that case, a what may to you feel like reflexology (but is, given my background and training, a traditional Chinese acupressure) can help you to feel rejuvenated. On that note…keep in mind, you don’t have to have issues to make an appointment for tui na treatment. A pedicure isn’t the only way to reward your feet for their good service. You can also come for an appointment just as treat, or for preventative care and health nurturance.
Essentially, what a visit to a good tui na practitioner can do for you is help you to help yourself. Your gait, posture, and balance will be assessed. Depending on where the problem starts, you may get cupping on your legs and hips and tui na on your feet themselves. It really depends. Your practitioner might ultimately decide that acupuncture will help you more, or that you need an herbal treatment and I’ve done that too, via referral. Herbal treatment can include special foot soaks or a prescription for pills or powders. But you will ideally get effective help for your problem that might just make your dogs stop barking.
I promised to tell you about the term “barking dogs” and the answer is: apparently it is derived from the rhyming slang associated with Cockney England. “Dog’s meat” was another term for “feet” and this, somehow is supposed to extend to aching ones (source). Crazy, isn’t it? And the name of the Hush Puppies brand of shoes, for its part, comes from this background too, as you can see:
Good shoes do make a difference. And so does walking barefoot and allowing your feet to breathe and adjust to differing surfaces. Maintaining a healthy weight for your height can help. So can being aware of your body and taking care of it with yoga and regular exercise. A lot of factors go into foot health. If and when yours ever give you trouble, do for sure think about tui na and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine.
Happy feet and soothed soles? Yes, tui na can make your puppies hush and put a smile on your face as you stride forth into your next great adventure!
Have you ever though to try traditional Chinese bodywork? At present, I offer tui na (similar to massage) and other ancient Chinese therapies, including cupping, gua sha, moxa, and more. If you are looking for a holistic wellness consultant and coach, my services can entail short or longer term programs. You are your own best investment, and when you take charge of your wellbeing you invest in yourself now and for the benefit of your future.
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services. If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.
Note: The information on this web site, blog included, is not intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such. If you have health concerns, your best bet is to discuss them with your physician.