Are Your Feet Dragging You (and Your Pelvis) Down?

The quick answer is yes!!!

This video includes a really eye-opening exercise called the Human Pez Dispenser, which demonstrates the relationship between tension in the feet and the pelvis.

Now that you've tried the Pez Dispenser, you probably have a better feel for how tension in the feet affects hip mobility. But what exactly is going on here, and what can you do about it?

How tight are your feet, and what does your pelvis have to say about it?

For most of your life, have you been:

  • Wearing shoes?
  • Walking primarily on smooth, human-made surfaces?
  • Not walking regularly on bumpy, uneven ground?
  • Not walking as much as you should? (5-10 miles per day, FYI)

If you answered ‘yes’ to most or all of these, chances are pretty high that you have some really tight feet. 

That foot tension can be the cause of relatively obvious things like plantar fasciitis, hammertoes, and neuromas. What's less obvious is that foot tension also creates a host of other issues throughout the entire body, including the pelvis.

Most people with pelvic floor (PF) issues - this includes but is not limited to urinary incontinence (yes, sneeze/cough/laugh pee counts), menstrual cramps, and pelvic organ prolapse for women, and prostate problems and erectile dysfunction for men - probably don’t give their feet a second thought.

Big mistake! Tension in the feet literally drags the hips down by pulling the femurs (aka thigh bones) into what is called internal rotation. Think of being knock-kneed - if you turn your knees so they go from pointing straight ahead to pointing towards one another, then your femurs have just internally rotated. When doing the [Pez Dispenser], internal rotation is happening when the block moves back behind you.

Why should I care about this internal rotation thing?

When the thigh bones internally rotate, the muscles of the thighs and pelvis go along for the ride and end up being displaced. For example, you know those hamstring muscles that are supposed to be on the backs of the legs? When the femurs internally rotate, the hamstrings actually end up closer to the outside edges of the legs!

Why is this a big deal, you ask?

Each muscle in the body has a particular alignment in which it can work optimally and generate the most force. When you mess with that alignment on a regular basis, you end up with muscle imbalances - some end up underused and weak, while others become overdeveloped. Over time, this takes a toll on the neighboring muscles and joints.

FYI, this is NOT what I mean by the phrase "human Pez dispenser"! I'm talking about the exercise that teaches you how to externally rotate your femurs.

In the case of muscle imbalances in the thighs and hips, one major result is a poorly functioning PF. Appropriate tension (i.e. not too little or too much) created by muscle contraction of the hip muscles (the glutes especially) places beneficial loads on the PF muscles that balances them out and keeps them from becoming tight and weak. When this tension is significantly decreased because your hip and thigh muscles are out of place and can no longer work like they should, the PF muscles are left to their own devices. Combined with other inputs such as a chronically tucked pelvis, the PF muscles shorten. And we all know that short muscles = weak muscles that can't do their job.

The Pez Dispenser is a great way to re-learn how to externally rotate the femurs back to where they should be (remember, the block-moving-forward part of the exercise is external rotation). Once the femurs are externally rotated back to neutral, the hip and thigh muscles can kick in and start doing their jobs again, which will help rebalance the PF.

Wait, what about my tight feet???

You could start walking 5 miles a day (awesome!), ditch your furniture and start floor sitting (also awesome!), and do the Pez Dispenser for all the remaining hours of the day (awesome and just a little weird), but for a lasting solution you really need to undo the tension your feet. 

Check out this comprehensive Restorative Exercise foot-care video from my colleague at The Resilient Body. I suggest doing it every day for a week, then try the Pez Dispenser again to re-evaluate your foot/pelvis situation. Your feet (and pelvis) will thank you!