Talk to the foot – how to reduce ski boot pain

There’s more to good ski feet than just your ski boots. Guillaume Tual offers tips to keep your ski feet happy.

Ah the joy of putting ski boots on…not! As much as we are excited to gear up for a new season on the slopes, there’s always that vague memory of foot pain that resurfaces at the view of a pair of ski boots.

If you just take a look at ski boots, it’s easy to see that they are not particularly designed to be comfortable, at least in a normal human gait way. We seem to forget that most of us spend at least 350 days wearing thongs, sneakers, flats or other work shoes and that none of them come close to look like ski boots.

Saying that, it’s easy to blame the boots, the fitter or the snow conditions for your feet pain when we also know that the primarily cause of foot pain is neglect, lack of care and awareness.

What most people don’t realise is the correlation between foot mechanic and its effect on the rest of the body, especially in sports. The feet are the only contact point we have with the ground (or skis and slopes) and your entire body (and brain) will react with what your feet sense.

A stiff, painful, locked unhappy foot can only limit the amount of movement upward. So when you are locked into your ski boots after neglecting your feet all year long, don’t expect them to be happy.

It’s all connected

There are five Myofascial Meridians (muscles linked together via a multidimensional connective tissue to form more complex movement lines) that start from the feet which means that a tightness in your feet can possibly create tension in your neck.

Your nervous system will respond to any proprioceptive information sensed by your feet like vibrations, surface change, tension or compression so the more you’ll feel the skis, the more responsive you will be.

Dr. Emily Splichal, NYC based Podiatrist and Movement Specialist, explains that with the foot as the only contact point between the body and the ground – proprioceptive information enters our nervous system through the feet.

If this foot information is tuned out or unable to be sensed by the nervous system, inaccurate movement patterns and delayed time to stabilization then injury is the result.

How do you talk to your feet?

It is quite simple and it starts by looking after your feet. Every occasion you have to take your shoes off, go for it.

Walk barefoot and explore different surfaces, do your workout barefoot (not to be confused with running barefoot), treat your feet with a massage or better, do some Self Myofascial Release using balls (massage, golf, cricket balls) under your feet.

If you experience any discomfort or pain, remember that it’s not normal and this means that a lot of tension is stored in the plantar tissues of your tootsies. Wearing the right type of shoe and ski boot is crucial too.  It’s important to let your digits splay and be free so the small nerves running at the surface of the skin can get maximum feedback from the environment.

During my time as a Ski boot Fitter, I saw many people presenting symptoms of Morton’s Neuroma Syndrome (thickening of the common plantar digital nerves running between the metatarsals creating a hot and stingy sensation under pressure). When looking at their everyday shoes, it was often easy to see that they were way too narrow for their feet and for the ladies, high heels are definitely not helping.

When I train people for their ski trip, I always incorporate some barefoot drills, often mimicking the ski position either on the ground or on a Bosu ball. I want my clients to feel what is happening under their feet, connect with the surface they stand on, feel the variation and how the rest of their body is compensating for these changes. We eventually progress with eyes closed to enhance the proprioceptive feedback and the connection between feet and core muscles.

It’s fascinating to witness how each individual is tuned in and reacts to the stimulus. Every great skier or ski instructor will tell you that they can ski with their boots totally unbuckled because you need your feet to initiate the turns (push the downhill big toe down).

Think of your foot as an extension of the ski with the big toe connected to the inside edge of the downhill ski. The quicker your nervous system is able to sense the variations of the slopes and snow conditions (i.e. from slush to ice), the faster the response and movement will be.

Primal Movement training can also be very helpful for snow sports. Connecting hands and feet via the ground enhances the proprioceptive response via small nerve stimulation. Doing closed-chain kinetic movements can lead to greater motor unit activation and synchronisation which is necessary when skiing (think of when you plant your pole as you turn).

Research has shown that small nerve endings (found in the skin of the feet and hands) create a faster response of the nervous system, allowing for faster movement changes and adaptation.

Dr. Splichal explains that “when we exercise and move we are actually feeling our fascia – not feeling our muscles” and that “fascia has 10 times as many sensory nerves compared to muscles”. The more you stimulate the entire body through movement, the more responsive you will be.

Five tips to help now

So if you want to improve your balance, response time and core muscles activation you better start talking to your feet and looking after them. Make sure that you:

  • Include barefoot training and primal movement in your program
  • Spend time massaging the base of your feet
  • Wear appropriate footwear (not too small or narrow)
  • Wear super thin socks when skiing and get a footbed (orthotic)
  • Don’t ignore pain, tension or tightness

As I often say: happy feet make happy skiers. You can’t ski well when your feet hurt so don’t risk ruining your snow holidays and take care of your tootsies all year long.

Read more: Check out our fit to ski page filled with tips to get in shape for the ski season

Read more: Check out our Ski Boots page for boot fitting features

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Guillaume Tual

Founder/Trainer at Peak Movement
Gee is a mad skier, skilled boot fitter, personal trainer and movement specialist. He has a lust for life, an infectious enthusiasm for his work and can't stand if people are not having a good time on the slopes.
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