The toe whisperer: secrets of the ortho-bionomist

The secrets of the ortho-bionomist

It’s no longer enough to be a pedicurist. These days you’ve got to be a ‘toe whisperer’.

Gary Williams is an ortho-bionomist in New York, and by performing the rare practice of osteopathic-based body therapy on models’ feet, he has gained a powerful nickname: the Toe Whisperer.

Models, tailors and fashion execs have been banging on Williams’ door, begging him to fix their feet, since he first started his practice in 1997. Williams sees some twenty clients a week, with a 15-week wait time for new clients. Fashion Week, he says, is one of his busiest times of the year.
The Toe Whisperer’s practice is all word of mouth. With the models, I unlock the things that are happening to their feet because of the footwear and the situation they operate in. I make them more comfortable in their feet so they can move and flow better, he says. I have a conversation with every joint and muscle in the body to redefine the balance and mobility in feet.

He started his career by treating tailors in the fashion industry that struggled with hand arthritis and poor posture. One tailor working on HBO’s The Sopranos recommended him to executives in fashion, and word eventually trickled down to the model industry. Most of the models he treats struggle with bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis and dropped metatarsals – all of which are the basic side effects of wearing bad shoes.

To me, the happiest sound is around 7.30 on a Friday night, when women come from the suburbs and their lovely four to six inch Jimmy Choos hit the ground because those are free range clientele. Those are the knee replacements and hip replacements of Christmas future, he says.

So just how much damage are our friends at Fashion Week enduring?

The higher your heel goes the more your body thinks you’re spending (hours) walking downhill so your centre of gravity is off. Your muscles become tight in your back, neck, glutes and calves, shortening the muscles, and over time,

you’ll find that other stuff starts to hurt because you’re putting more shock through it. At some point, when the damage gets bad enough, that becomes the only thing you can hear.

Williams works with models’ feet to retrain the body’s perspective; while he teaches them exercises to do at home and helps shift around limbs during sessions, he said the real work lies in killing bad habits.

If you repeat the same behaviour that causes the problem, the problem will keep coming back. There is no free lunch. I say: they have to make a decision. Do they want to look fashionable for some of the time, all of the time or just live without a problem? I can make them function but if you try to look fashionable all the time you will pay a price. If you use your body badly you will reap the problems that come with it over time.

Williams says the worst pair of shoes a woman can wear are pointy ones. They crunch the toes, causing the foot to hit the ground differently and ruining the body’s equilibrium. The shoes’ effect on feet is like trying to balance your body on the head of a pin. When heels are absolutely necessary, he suggests wearing shoes with thicker heels and buying ones with full support.
Platforms and wedges are not desirable footwear either says Williams. They are often the precursors of hip problems because a ‘clunkier’ walk makes feet hit the ground harder and will tilt the pelvis over time.

And when it comes to flat shoes, he isn’t necessarily sold on every pair. He stressed the importance of finding a shoe that is comfortable from the moment it’s on your foot, not relying on it to stretch after a few wears.
The right flats have to do with a pelvic tilt: some aren’t as comfortable as others. You need to make sure they are actually comfortable in the store, and don’t expect them to change at home.

Williams recommends two at-home feet exercises for those looking to nurse their lower extremities. First, he suggests taking a few minutes to walk around with the knees connected as they are duct-taped together while gradually picking up speed. Secondly he recommends self-massaging the areas above, below, and beside the metatarsal bones. He noted the exercises will strengthen hip synapses and refines movements, and if anything, provide some comfort after you’ve kicked off those heels.