health, Uncategorized

Oh, my aching feet!

At a recent gathering with women friends, our discussion ran to the unglamorous topic of feet. You know, this little piggie and all that. I had to chuckle as we raved about the comfort of our less-than-fashionable footwear. 

Sherwood Forest Friends

Three of us were wearing clunky shoes  recommended by our doctors for various foot ailments. If anyone would have told me twenty years ago that I’d be decked out in orthopedic shoes like Grandma, I’d have laughed.


Well, here I am. And I’m not laughing.

What happened? Well, age has plenty to do with it, along with overtaxing my hoofers. Their demise began after a few glorious months of pounding away for hours at dance class—modern dance and tap. I loved it, but my feet didn’t.


Before long it was agony to stand barefoot on my kitchen floor. I struggled with heel pain for quite a while before I went to see Dr. Mike, my sports medicine guru. The culprit? Plantar fasciitis.

Ah, relief!

Mike fitted me with orthotics to support my arches and told me to give up dancing until my feet were healed. Sigh…

Other foot ailments plague us: heel spurs, bunions, and Achilles tendonitis. Morton’s neuroma and hammertoes are two more issues common in the middle years. I’d always been aware of athlete’s foot and blisters, but who knew we’d face these tortures?

The tortures, defined:

ACHILLES TENDONITIS is  soreness on the back of the ankle, sometimes with a sharp pain in the calf, caused by stressing and inflaming the Achilles tendon.

Bunion, Mayo Clinic

BUNION is a large bulge on the outside of your big toe joint, resulting from fallen arches and a tendency to overpronate or from wearing tight shoes.

HEEL SPURS are abnormal bony growth on the bottom of the heel caused by plantar fasciitis or an over-stressed arch (from overuse or running).

Hammertoe, Mayo Clinic

HAMMERTOE is having a middle toe that curls under and develops a corn on top, often the result of an overly long middle toe.

MORTON’S NEUROMA is a pain or burning on the underside of your foot, behind the toe, caused by a thickening of tissue around the nerves between the toes. It’s more common in women from wearing heels or tight shoes.

PLANTAR FASCIITIS is pain caused by the straining of tissue connecting the heel to the toes, which can be caused by fallen arches, tight calf muscles, weight gain, worn shoes, or excessive walking.

So how can we prevent foot maladies?

First, wear comfortable, roomy shoes—and give up those heels! Find shoes that give your feet support without cramping your toes. Treat your feet especially kindly if you are going to overtax them with a dance class or a marathon: make sure you wear quality shoes, and if you suspect you may have injured your feet, use ice as you would on any injury to keep inflammation from destroying tissue. Replace running shoes at least every 500  miles (or every six months, whichever comes first).

Love your feet!

Another factor that affects your feet is, of course, the load they carry. If the load is equal to the length times the width…figure it out. You may not be able to do much about your height, but girth is within your control–enough said.

It’s been shown that differences in gait can contribute to foot problems, too. Most people step first on the outside of the heel and then the rest of the foot rolls in toward the big toe. download-4Pronating is walking more on the insides of your feet, while supinating is walking more on the outside. You can tell how you walk by looking at the bottom of a worn pair of shoes. The wear should be fairly consistent down the middle of the sole. If there is more wear to the inside or the outside, your stride may be “off.” You can go to an athletic shoe store for help in finding the best shoes to correct your problem.

I’ve tried to alter my supinating stride deliberately, but it’s hard after 60+ years of walking like a duck. I have found a shoe, though, that adjusts for my problem. My high-arched, supinating feet like New Balance athletic shoes.

Custom orthotics

Another option is to get orthotics, which are basically custom-designed inserts to correct your foot issues. If you don’t want to spend the money on custom orthotics, drug store inserts can provide arch support or cushion.

If you’d like more information on foot ailments and their treatments, check out WebMD on foot problems. It’s not surprising that almost every ailment can be eased by wearing sensible, well-fitted shoes (like my grandma—and me). It’s worth putting money on your feet; they’re your ticket to the exercise that helps you lead a long, healthy life.

Until your feet heal, consider joining the gang at the pool for exercise. Swimming and water aerobics are easy on your feet.

Now that my feet are healed, I’m back to walking every morning. I still love to dance, too, but I do it in my Danskos—clunky but comfortable, with good arch support. Grandma would approve.

A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me:sixty&melink

exercise, health, life in general

Which sounds better, a half hour of exercise or a half-hour massage?

What a quandary, eh?


No need to decide, because you can get both at once with qigong (CHEE-gong), the gentlest form of martial arts. For a few years I watched a small group of men and women leave our local YMCA’s Qigong session with serene smiles on their faces. A friend in the group explained that it was an Eastern practice like yoga or tai chi. Sadly, I didn’t have time to squeeze another class into my busy life.

I finally I decided to give it a try. Chatting with participants before class, I learned that they never missed a session. Hmmm…


I brought my yoga mat, but there was no need; we remained standing for the entire class as Mona led us through a series of slow, gentle stretches and movements combined with deep breathing. At first I found it a bit odd. The repetitive movements were simple, and it didn’t feel like exercise. “Jerry would never put up with this,” I thought to myself, but then my husband’s a sceptic who thinks even chiropractic is voodoo.

After a half hour of stretches, movements, and sounds, I was transformed. My body was relaxed and my mind soothed. I felt like I’d been on a massage table for an hour. It was absolutely miraculous, and I didn’t understand why.

I was hooked.


What is qigong?


According to Chinese philosophy, the practice of qigong allows access to higher realms of awareness by balancing the qi (chi, or energy) within the body. Qigong’s range of smooth, gentle movements help strengthen balance as well as foster a sense of peace and well-being. The National Qigong Association in Minnesota summarizes it as “a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.” Mona explains the effect of each movement on our health as we practice it. For a more thorough description of qigong, visit the NQA website.

What are the exercises like?


Qigong exercises range from very simple movements and sounds to more complicated sequences called the five animals. (My favorite is The Crane.) It also includes static meditative practices. “It’s a gentler form of tai chi,” Mona explains.

Let me describe a few of the movements. We always start in a quiet standing position with feet together. We slowly lift the left foot and place it about hip-width from the right. We slightly bend our knees and start with arm swings, swinging our hands up as high as our head, then down and back behind us, bending a bit on the downward swing. We repeat this movement for about a half minute.


We go through a series of other simple movements, and because I hold a lot of stress in my neck, I particularly like one where we bend our heads forward on an exhale, then breathe in (always through the nose) as we lift our head, drop it back on an exhale, then lift it back up on an inhale. We repeat this about five or six times. Then we switch direction, this time tilting the head to the right shoulder, inhaling as we bring bring it straight up, then tilt it to the left. I love what this exercise does for my tight neck. Try it.

How does Qigong affect you?

After my first few classes I thanked Mona for introducing me to qigong. I shared that after class I feel like I’ve had a two-hour massage. Mona looked at me with her gentle smile and replied, “I know. I get it, too. That’s why I teach the class.”


If you’re interested in trying qigong, I’d recommend looking for a class in your community. If that’s not possible, I’ve found two YouTube videos that are great for beginners.

Qigong for Beginners (30 minutes)


Marissa does a beautiful job of guiding the viewer through a number of movements with clear explanations. If you’re interested in trying Qigong, this is a great way to start.



8 Simple Movements of Qigong for Beginners by Jake Mace  (10 minutes)

If you’re tight for time but curious, this video will introduce you to some basic Qigong movements.

I must admit, I’m thankful to have discovered this beautiful practice and intend to continue with it.


A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me, a website I write for monthly.

~Ann Marie