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.
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.
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 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 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).
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. Pronating 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.
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.