As long as they get us where we need to go, we tend to take our feet for granted. But without proper care — such as wearing suitable footwear and stretching to improve flexibility — over time, issues can develop.
When pain sets in and you find it hard to take a step, you can still achieve healthier feet without much effort.
Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying extra weight puts extra stress on your joints and feet, exacerbating foot conditions. This can throw you into a frustrating cycle: When your feet hurt, you’re less likely (or able) to work out. But without exercise, losing weight is difficult.
The risk of diabetes also increases with your weight — and once you’ve developed it, foot care becomes even more critical. People with diabetes must check their feet often — and should have them examined by a doctor regularly since they’re at risk for developing ulcers that, in some cases, can lead to serious infection.
Wear sensible shoes
Choosing quality footwear with the right fit can keep your feet in good condition. Here are some pointers for both your everyday and athletic shoes:
- Athletic shoes: Different sports require different support for your feet. Research what’s best for your activities. For example, if you’re a runner, be sure your shoes have shock absorbency and can withstand high-impact forward motion. Take care to pick the right arch, and plan to replace your shoes after 600-800 miles of running or walking, or every six to eight months.
- Flats: Limit your time in flats since they often lack cushioning for shock absorption, leading to arch problems and heel pain.
- Flip-flops: Though tempting as an everyday summer choice, wear flip-flops sparingly. With no arch support or stability, they stress the plantar fascia (the band of tissue that extends from the heel to the toes) and cause plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis usually causes heel pain immediately in the morning or after periods of inactivity during the day.
- High heels and platforms: High heels can cause pain in the balls of your feet and ankle injury. They can also lead to low back, neck and shoulder pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends heels 2 1/4 inches or shorter since low, stable heels help reduce strain on your feet.
- Wedges: Wider, flatter wedges with rubber soles and good traction are a sensible choice since they offer better stability against ankle twists and sprains.
You should also limit the amount of time you go barefoot. Walking without support and protection for your feet increases your risk for sunburn, plantar warts, athlete's foot, ringworm and injury.
If you’re experiencing foot pain, your doctor may recommend custom orthotics to stabilize your feet and treat foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bursitis, tendinitis and diabetic foot ulcers.
Increase your flexibility by stretching
Stretching your foot and calf muscles before exercising is especially helpful if you’re living with plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendon pain. It can also help relieve pressure on your feet by loosening your muscles.
Here are a few recommended stretches:
- Foot circles: Sitting in a chair, lift your foot and rotate it clockwise. Then, reverse your rotation to counterclockwise.
- Step stretches: Holding onto your stair railing with the back of your foot hanging off the step, dip your heels down to stretch.
- Towel stretches: Sitting on the ground, extend your feet and spread a towel under your feet so you can reach the ends. Then, pull on it to stretch your Achilles tendon.
- Wall stretches: Holding your arms out toward a wall to balance, stretch your leg behind you, pressing your foot down to stretch your calf and Achilles tendon.
Your doctor can give you more guidance on what to do and how many repetitions of each will help you.
Listen to your feet
Our bodies were designed with many fail-safes. Remember that pain indicates a bigger problem, so it’s best not to ignore it. Continuing to walk or exercise without seeing your healthcare provider can make your pain worse and may delay your healing if you’ve suffered an injury.
If you’re experiencing foot pain, you can find an orthopedic specialist on staff at Tanner Ortho and Spine Center by calling 770-214-CARE (2273). More information is available online at TannerOrtho.org.