Friday, October 2, 2009

I've got Morton's Toes (and he wants them back!)

I've got Morton's Toe (or Morton's foot) on both feet (where the second metatarsal is longer than the first, often resulting in the second toe being longer than the first).

I've struggled with the painful extra strain and callus that develops under the second metatarsal. The typical answer is an orthotic that adds a thicker portion under the first metatarsal, so it "lands" first. This worked for me, but is not feasible when barefoot and it's not practical in minimalist shoes. Besides, if there is a way to make it work without anything, I much prefer that.

On the Barefoot runners group, I've researched the wisdom and experience there. Here's what I've found, both from the group and from my own experimentation, summarized:

- with every step (walking around the house, running, trail running, hiking -- every step), I curl my toes up in my stride forward, relaxing them as I land on the ball of my foot. This does two things: 1) pushes the first metatarsal down so it lands properly and 2) loads the natural spring in my foot to absorb more of the landing. The only trick seems to be how much to curl, and I'm allowing my feet to tell me that. - When sitting in a recliner, I'll exercise my toes by curling them both up and down, alternating feet just like when I'm walking/running. This helps train my muscle memory so my natural gate will simply have the toe lift in it.

Note: as with most barefoot/minimalist techniques, it often works well to exaggerate a new motion to help move it into muscle memory, but then to gently pull back and listen to your feet as you run/hike/walk and find where your own "balance" point is. Th better you are at listening to what you feet are saying, the quicker this will happen. If you run with exaggerated movement for too long, without listening to your feet, that's when injury happens. (Not that I've ever done that! Grin.)

It is working well so far, though I'm only 6 miles into testing it.

10-3-09: Update
Wow. I did not expect this to settle into my muscle memory so quickly (possibly a benefit of not having traditional memory?). Today's run was magical. I've accessed the windlass mechanism in the foot, which creates a natural "spring" absorbing more of the impact (except barefoot/minimalist technique uses it to not only lift the foot, but more so to  cushion the landing. Traditional shoes use it to push off -- which barefoot technique does not do, instead simply lifting the foot). My stride felt more natural than it ever has, and I ran as fast as I did pre-disability. My feet have rotated toe inward, so they are where they are supposed to be (it's common with Morton's Foot to point the toes out to compensate, but this messes up leg and back alignments). No longer was I fighting to maintain my posture. My foot even felt relaxed, like it was born to run this way. Not sure how that happened so quickly, considering the act of curling toes upwards tenses the foot. But I just let my feet run and they felt great -- clearly doing what I was wanting them to do, without me having to think about it. Wow.

10-4-09: Update
The wonder continues. Today I ran the best times I've ever done and my feet feel great after. I hardly had to think about lifting my toes -- they are getting close to being automatic.

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