Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Feat of Walking

by R' Zvi Zobin

Part I

The human foot is a miracle of engineering -- incredibly strong, sensitive, firm and supple. At every step, each foot takes the force of twice a person's body's weight when hitting the ground, placing a pressure of about 900 pounds per square inch on the bottom of the foot! Twenty-six bones and thirty-eight joints enable the foot to flex and absorb these pressures.

For every mile we walk, our feet transport approximately 100 tons, just through moving our body weight forward.

We take approximately 7,000 to 9,000 steps each day and two and a half million steps a year, which is like walking 2,500 miles -- equivalent to walking across the USA from New York to San Francisco -- and, of course, it is our feet that take us on that journey. In a lifetime, our feet walk us more than four times the distance around the world. However, the average housewife walks even more while doing her daily tasks and might walk tens of miles a day.

Only the foot of a human being has a heel bone that touches the ground, a big toe that is aligned forwards instead of being set off to the side like a thumb, and bones positioned so as to form several arches. The long arch from the heel to the ball of the foot is the most important of these. The arches are supported and held in place with ligaments and strong muscles so as to carry the weight of the body, like the steel cables that support the load of a suspension bridge. The flexible arches act as shock aborbers to soften the impact when walking on a hard surface.

The design of the foot gives it flexibility, making walking, running and other movements possible. If the foot were stiff and flat and joined directly to the bone of the leg, walking would be nearly impossible. These features enable us to stand upright on two feet and walk with a stride -- something no animal can do.

At birth, the foot contains 22 partially developed bones. A baby's foot is not simply a smaller version of an adult's but is shorter, proportionately wider and tapers towards the heel. The twenty-two bones are made of cartilage, which is soft and pliable and susceptible to damage. As the foot grows, the cartilage gradually changes into bone. The foot does not grow at a steady pace but in spurts and by the end of the first year, the foot might be almost half its adult size.

It takes approximately 18 years for the foot to develop fully, but because a child's feet grow so rapidly during the first year, foot specialists consider the first year to be developmentally the most important.

When the baby is 6 months old, the foot is still mostly comprised of cartilage and can be deformed even by a tight all-in (baby-gro) suit. Up to the age of 8 or 9 months, a baby's feet are even more sensitive than his hands and he uses them to explore the world around him.

At first, the child looks as if he is flat-footed because his foot does not seem to have an arch. This is because the hollow of the arch is filled with a fat pad which disappears by the time he is four or five years old.

When your baby is kicking and moving his legs around, he is preparing the feet and legs for walking and weight-bearing, so you should only cover his feet loosely. Keeping him continually wrapped tightly in his covers restricts his movements and can retard normal development. You should also change the baby's position several times a day. Lying too long in one spot, especially on the stomach, can put excessive strain on the feet and legs.

A child is ready to wear shoes, after he has been walking independently for several weeks. The shoe should be the same shape as the foot, with each inner side being straight. The toe must be wide enough to allow freedom of movement and the toes to wiggle. The front of the shoe should be so flexible that you can bend it 90 degrees easily by hand. The upper part should be made of very soft material preferably of leather. The sole should be flexible and non-slip. The back of the shoe should have sturdy sides to stabilize the heel and prevent twisting sideways and it should have a well- fitting instep and heel and a rounded toe. Shoes should lace up over the ankles, because a toddler's heels are narrow and will easily pull out of low-cut shoes. A well-fitting shoe helps the child to be stable when walking.

NEXT WEEK: Foot development at different stages of a child's life.


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