So, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and that means: the holiday rush is here! Parties, traditional treats, and trading in our typical cardio routines for shopping marathons and mad dashes from our cars into the mall. Like so many of you, I’m guilty of getting less active in the long, wintry months…I’m a runner (and an outdoors one, at that) so, between the more hectic social schedule, and the dropping temperatures, I give myself a little leeway at this time of year to lighten up on exercise.
Unfortunately for me, that drop off in activity started a little early this year. In short, this summer—I failed myself and cut back on my workouts even earlier in the year. I had good excuses: in part, it was because of my bout with plantar fasciitis (see last month’s blog post), and in part because I have been getting used to a new, different and busy schedule. But, if I’m being really honest with myself and all of you, it was mostly because I didn’t schedule the time into my calendar. And, purposely avoiding hopping on the scale, I knew that things could go bad. In fact, as a podiatrist, I knew that better than most.
Foot Problems Associated with Weight Gain
When we gain weight, even a few pounds, it can cause a whole host of foot problems. And that’s not just an anecdotal idea: it’s backed up by cold, hard statistics. Recently, the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society launched a survey with over 6000 people to determine whether weight gain really triggers foot pain.
And what they found proved my point. The majority of respondents who reported seeing a doctor for foot or ankle pain, or even having foot surgery, were above average weight. On average, those respondents had a BMI of 27.9 (a healthy BMI ranges between 18.5 and 24.9).
If that’s not enough proof for you, consider this. Of those heavier respondents, 41% noted that they’d gained weight just before their foot problems began. And the amount of weight gained didn’t have to be large to take a toll on people’s feet: the researchers discovered that gaining as little as 10 pounds could have a really negative impact on your feet.
So, there’s your numeric evidence. Now, here’s what I’ve seen at my Elmhurst podiatry practice. As we gain weight, even a few pounds, we put more pressure on our feet every time we stand and walk. That pressure is stressful for our feet and bones; if we keep those extra pounds around, the stress may even change the physical makeup of the skin and bones in our feet.
This is why so many overweight individuals develop fallen arches, a problem that can lead to long-term foot pain, and necessitate interventions like changes in your footwear and a need for custom orthotic devices.
When your arches 'fall', your feet are starting to pronate. Not sure what that means? Pronation is a fancy way of describing a natural motion within our foot that can become excessive, putting undue stress on the endons and joints. Over pronation is problematic because it changes the normal transition of weight through your feet.
Left untreated, overpronation can take you down the path towards major foot problems. First stop? Could be PTTD (posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or Plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the ligament that connects your heel to your toes. These are quite common in people with overpronation, because the odd positioning of your feet tugs at this delicate ligament on the bottom and the tendon that attaches near the high point of your arch, causing irritation and resulting in sharp heel and foot pain.
Of course, once this kind of pain sets in, you’re likely to find yourself in the same situation I was in this past summer. A bit overweight, in pain and worn out…not exactly a combination that inspires exercise. Which sets you up for more couch surfing, more weight gain, and a vicious foot-pain cycle. And if all of that weren’t bad enough, consider this. Weight gain can also lead to diabetes, a disease that can wreak havoc on your foot health.
Diabetes, Weight Gain and Your Feet: A Dangerous Combination
When you are overweight, your body’s ability to process insulin may be affected, putting you at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. With diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels can damage your nerves, leaving you with decreased sensation in your feet. Your circulatory system may also be impacted, meaning less blood reaches your legs and feet.
These two factors add up to a dangerous equation. You’ve got less feeling in your feet, so you don’t always notice when they get nicked, cut or rubbed the wrong way. And, over time the circulation in your feet can be affected, so even minor injuries are slower to heal. This means that, unless you detect and treat a foot wound early, you may develop further complications like infection, which then puts the health of your entire limb at risk. This is why so many diabetics in this country lose their feet to amputation.
Now, I didn’t write this post to terrify you (although it may have had that very impact.) But I did want to help you understand that gaining a few pounds isn’t just a cosmetic problem. It’s an issue that takes a toll on your entire body, especially on your feet. So, in recognition of this fact, I’ve decided to make a change in my life. I’m putting myself, and my physical health, on the top of my priority list. And I’m hoping you’ll follow suit and do the same.
Prioritizing Self Care, The Most Important New Year’s Resolution
This New Year’s (or actually earlier) we have gotten (and are using) a gym membership. I will be scheduling time for myself to put in an effort so I can continue to heal from my plantar fasciitis and continue to stay pain-free and healthy. If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that exercise and self-care are non-negotiable. They are the keys to staying healthy and preventing injury.
Of course, I do have to add one final word of caution to my ode to self-care. If you are getting back into an abandoned fitness routine, or starting a brand new one, take things slowly, please. As you ease into a new program, especially if you’re focused on running, you need to gradually increase your activity level.
Before every workout, you should stretch, warm-up and cool down. With care and precaution, your new exercise routine should lead to better health and decreased foot pain. If, however, the opposite occurs, and foot pain pops up, come see me at Prairie Path Foot & Ankle so I can get you back to feeling like yourself.