The Big Idea
We love it when our testing partners ask us to look into a facts they have heard about – so we can see if they are science or fiction. Digital Jen, one of our most committed testers, asked us to check whether it was true that sitting at her desk and rolling a tennis ball under her foot could reduce stress? Of course we wanted to check it out…! You might be amazed to know that the answer is a definite and absolute yes!!!
And that is not the end of the story, a two to five minute foot roll on each foot as you work or stack another good habit has benefits beyond stress relief. Who would have thought that such a small, simple tip – that takes minutes and can easily be done while you work – has such big benefits?!
We spoke to Hedge Haigh – the personal trainer who helped us with #Tip6 Do The Plank to find out more.
Hedge told us that whilst you can get foot rollers on the internet in all sorts of shapes and sizes, rolling a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball, or even using a rolling pin slowly underneath your feet and really using the pressure to find any sore spots and pausing on them for a moment has all sorts of benefits – including the relief of neck and back pain!
Got it…What’s the Science
This is another top tip that has so much science to it that we will have to try and contain ourselves…
Firstly the human foot is a complex mechanical structure of the human body composed of 33 joints, 26 bones, 19 intrinsic plus another 10 associated muscles as well 107 tendons and ligaments that all work together to bear weight, allow for locomotion, and transmit force. Combine this with as many as around 200, 000 nerve endings per sole, this makes our feet complex and sensitive to the surfaces we walk on, ticklish and even, for some people, erogenous zones.
Most people wear shoes. In the west these have become increasingly cushioned with ridged soles. This might feel comfortable for our feet to be in BUT in fact this was not what our feet have evolved to be in contact with when we stand. This has meant we have become a bit ‘foot-blind’ to the environment we are in and how we are to properly stand. This means that we can not get the best feedback that our body is in or out of balance. Hedge explained to us that this often means that we can unconsciously carry ourselves by holding other body regions in tension, like at the top of our shoulders and neck. Working any muscles repeatedly, especially like this, can add tension to these body areas which in turn can give us a sense of stress, which can include inducing stress headaches. Our bodies also respond to stress unconsciously by raising activity in our sympathetic nervous system as well as releasing the stress related hormone cortisol. Higher cortisol increases, amongst other things, our blood pressure and heart-rate as the body gears up to be active to respond to the stressor.
The lack of freedom for our feet can also lead to problems in the tension in the connective tissue in our feet, especially the plantar fascia which can become inflamed when stressed or shocked in sudden, forceful movement causing lower foot and heal pain referred as a condition as ‘plantar fasciitis’.
Massaging the balls of our feet using rounded objects can really help us give our feet a work out and more receptive to the surfaces that they are in touch with. It’s a bit of a wake-up come reminder of what they could / meant to do. This should mean we can better balance on surfaces and so hold our bodies more appropriately without misaligning our body. In other words massaging our feet makes us more body aware / awake to our sense of touch (proprioception). Also, as our feet, along with regions such as our hands, lips and genitals are proportionally highly repented in our brains somatosensory (body sensing) cortex. This means that massaging our feet is likely to activate and ‘wake up’ more of our body and bodies’ sensitivity / awareness of similar information from the rest of the body. In other words we train our bodies to be more aware of this kind of sense.
The other thing that such massaging feet does does is stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the yin to the yang of our sympathetic system (the parasympathetic is the opposite of the activating / stress activation of the sympathetic nervous system). So massaging our feet lowers our heart rate and blood pressure, slows our breathing and relaxes other muscles – relaxing us. In fact the effort of concentrating on a single body region can also be a useful exercise in not only body awareness but distraction from other brain ‘noise’ including nuisance reoccurring (ruminating) thoughts.
It has been known for millennia that our feet seem to have important pressure points. These can be mapped for use in acupuncture and reflexology. Without getting into the ins and outs of the relative specific scientific evidence and counter arguments for these disciplines we do know that the whole nervous system is interconnected. This is born out by the parasympathetic affect we have already spoken about, although the precise mechanisms of this are still to be fully understood. When releasing tension in the feet this can be quite sharp even painful. This will also likely induce the release endorphins, our natural pain killers, which can have a wide generalised affect on the body, reducing the general perception of pain too. Acupuncture certainly has a significant amount of genuine scientific support for it’s impact and how it works since the 1970s – notably though work describing the impact of the reduced perception of nociception (i.e. reduced sensation of pain) in humans by stimulating other surface areas with another milder nociceptive (painful) stimulus – like a localised pinch or shallow needle insertion. The mechanism of action of this pain reduction (analgesia) is referred to as Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Controls (DNIC) or Conditioned Pain Modulation (CPM) and is very complex (for an example see the PAIN! Physiology clip in the Links below).
Basically massaging the foot is likely to stimulating key pathways and circuits that are historically referenced in these acupuncture and reflexology charts. BUT the uniqueness of our bodies – even on the same general body plan – of our nervous systems and brains means that this stimulation can have different impacts on different people. So when you try this please be aware what works for some doesn’t seem to work for others.
Some of our testers have said that massaging or rubbing their feet together is just something they have just always done to comfort themselves. In other words we can easily stumble on practices and habits, like Nikki’s blinking to remember happy times (#Tip19), without needing to understand why it works for us. This is kind of like a our own body learning and ‘knowing’ what works for itself when it experiences it (there is a similar phenomenon relating smell, taste and hunger with foodstuffs that contain the vitamins and minerals we need without us realising why we are craving those foods – although this is different from addictive inducing ingredients like sugar, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol or pregnancy cravings – although they could be linked).
The key thing for us is there is a fair amount of suggestive scientific support for this top tip. Our Hedge, Dulcie and Digital Jen certainly report that regularly massaging their feet with a simple tennis ball, come dog toy, can bring real relief from stress and has even eliminated pain associated with bad body posture.
Watch our #Tip20 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With special guest personal trainer Hedge Haigh.
MoveU (an online membership – we do not endorse links, merely point out some that may interest you)
If you work at a desk it seems like a no brainer to get yourself a hard ball and give this a try. So many of us know that we probably sit for too long each day and this is way to make that time more positively productive. We’d love to see how you might start to stack this habit in other ways too? Please take a photo and post your creative ideas on your social media accounts remembering to tag or quote @The52Project and / or use the hashtag #The52Tips so we can see them! I might try stacking this with a coffee in the Morning Sunshine (#Tip4) whilst I take note of my breathing (#Tip5) and listen to a track that I love from your Playlist for Life (#Tip12)
PLEASE DO TAKE CARE with this small but mighty tip. It might be best to start with this one while sitting down. As and when you progress to standing, as Hedge demonstrated, you might find it easier to balance yourself by placing a hand on a wall. Remembering to keep your head up and looking ahead to a spot on a wall. We know that stimulating the foot can stimulate all sorts of key massage pressure points that can have powerful affects on your whole body and how you feel. This can include light headedness, sleepiness, needing the toilet to a sense of mild euphoria, which can make it difficult to balance… Obviously if this persists or you have persistent pain or sense of sickness when doing it we strongly suggest you stop. It might be worth checking with your GP too.
If you find it difficult or have any general questions, Hedge (Haigh) says he is happy to hear from our testers to please get in touch with him on Facebook or Instagram.
As always, we would love to here how you get on with this #Tip so please do let us know how you get on by clicking HERE.
Watch this space…
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