Indeed it is. A human foot is a rather small yet vital part of the body. Intricately designed – 26 bones connected by 33 joints and over a 100 of ligaments, tendons and muscles – it supports our entire body, it accepts the full load of our bodyweight and sometimes way more. It is our point of contact with support.
The quality of the touchdown, when the foot meets its support, reverberates through the entire body, from the bottom up. We can either send a shockwave through out connective tissues or a light sensation of movement. If you’ve ever jumped off anything of some height you’re most likely familiar with the unpleasant jarring feeling of landing on entire surface of your foot or your heels. Landing on the front part of the foot however is a different story. Yes?
Let’s put forces and other complicated topics aside. There are plenty of deep scientific articles with longwinded detailed anatomical descriptions. Let’ simply look at the skeletal structure of the foot underneath the skin and muscles. Let’s see what we are working with. That should give us a pretty clear idea of what’s what.
Here’s what we have starting from the front part – many small elongated bones spread out and connected to each other in a way that creates a pretty wide flat surface with sufficient space for stable support, these bones go ‘funnel’ style to the much narrower area of smaller chunky bones in the middle of the foot that connect to a single somewhat pointy bone of the heel.
The foot has three main parts.
The forefoot is the front part of the foot that includes the toes, the ball of the foot and the area leading up to the arch of the foot. This is the widest part of the foot. People who habitually go barefoot have much wider forefoot than others. The forefoot has a spring to it, so to say. There are many small bones, joints intertwined with ligaments, tendons, muscles. Try standing on your forefoot.
This part of the foot has the smallest real estate of the foot. Consisting of cuneiform, cuboid, navicular bones it is the arch of the foot. The wedge-shaped and cuboid bones of the mid-foot connect to the bones of the ankle and the heel. The mid-foot subdivision of the foot is small, sturdy and tightly arranged. Try standing on your mid-foot.
The lone ranger – calcaneus – is the single large bone that forms the heel. It is big but it doesn’t offer a wide area for support like forefoot does. The heel bone is a single piece like a rock and is right next to the sturdy formation of the arches and the ankle. Try standing on your heels.
The heel bone is the stabilizer, the balance keeper just like the tiny toes when we place our bodyweight on forefoot. The heel has a bit of padding in it but not enough to use it for landing and expect it to handle the impact. It was not meant to withstand the constant hammering imposed on it by poor walking and running gaits. That’s how the thick padding on the heels of modern running shoes came about. Instead the movement that created the hammering (heel strike) should have been addressed.
Try this: stand on both feet and roll/shift the weight of your body onto the forefoot while still keeping your heels on the ground. You will immediately feel the freedom to move, a bit of instability and potential to tip over forward or freedom to roll the weight back. Then try to shift your weight back all the way to the heels and then again to the forefoot. Notice how it feels, notice the major difference. Notice your perception of your balance.
Have you ever tried lightly hopping in place on your heels or mid-foot? If not then you must. A bulk of the questions can be answered with a single attempt.
Landing on a narrow single rock of a bone doesn’t sound pleasant or seem intelligent and landing on small cuboid chunky bones sounds improbable. What we are left with is the logical conclusion of landing on the wide and welcoming front part of the foot. It seems to be the most suitably designed part of the foot for that purpose.
Did you know? There was research done that compared the quickness of different parts of the body, and showed that the foot is the slowest one among all of them. So much for propulsion.