My Pilates teacher's plan for this month's lesson was derailed by the discovery that I had stiff feet. I didn't go to see her worrying about my feet. As far as I was concerned my feet were fine. We had a deal, I bought them shoes with flat heels that didn't rub or pinch, and they carried me from A to B without complaint. It was lower back problems that led me into the regime of physiotherapy then Pilates.
The stiff feet manifested themselves in jumpy big toes, that wouldn't stay relaxed and softly pointed like they were supposed to, while I was coiling and uncoiling my spine and bending my knees on the supine version of a rowing machine my teacher calls The Reformer. Which I always think sounds rather ominous, like an instrument of torture from the Inquisition. My teacher wanted to know what the feet were doing, and I had to admit I didn't know, but I wasn't telling them to do it. She made me get off the Reformer and massage their soles with spiky massage balls, which was quite nice. She was not convinced, and replaced the spiky balls with a tennis ball. That was uncomfortable, I had to admit.
My teacher explained that if your feet were not moving as they should, and were tending to tip outwards as mine were doing, this altered your gait and put strain on the calves and outer thigh muscles. The thigh bone is indeed connected to the hip bone, and the leg bone, and so on right down to the tootsies, and my dodgy lower back might not be such a separate issue to my feet as I thought. She demonstrated lifting her big toe, while leaving the other four toes firmly planted on the ground, then did it the other way round, and asked whether I could move my toes independently. The answer, as you will have guessed, was a resounding No. At her suggestion I held the other four toes down while trying to raise the big one, and managed to get a feeble wave, but when I tried it the other way round, the big toe didn't just twitch under my hand, it pressed forcefully upwards.
I have been sent home with foot exercises, and had better get hold of a tennis ball from somewhere, and try to have more relaxed and disciplined feet before my next lesson. It's funny though how often, once you are aware of something, you suddenly see references to it everywhere, as skimming through the paper before lunch I found tennis ball foot massage recommended in an article on how to wear high heels. Which I will not be doing.
I knew theoretically that the human foot is a complex structure, and looking it up on Wikipedia I see that it has twenty six bones, thirty three joints of which twenty are actively articulated, and over a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons. That's an awful lot of components to go wrong, and I can quite see how my brain has forgotten to speak individually to my big toe. We take feet for granted, until they go wrong, but we should not. A friend's son, who is only twenty, has been suffering badly for months from plantar fasciitis, leaving him limping slowly and painfully about. This is not good for his work or his social life. I had better heed my teacher's warning, and start giving my feet the attention they deserve.