The unfortunate thing about human nature is that we often times don’t realize what we have until we lose it! We tend to focus on the negative and talk more about the bad than the good. As kids and young people, most of us get up and out of bed without thinking about it. We go for a walk and come home and don’t realize how lucky we are to be able to be active. We wear shoes that aren’t good for our feet – because they are stylish or cute. But then, at some point, most of us end up having pain in our feet. All of a sudden we realize how many steps we take every day – because we are feeling it more. Now we start thinking more about how we are walking. We very quickly start to change how we are walking, thinking maybe that’s what caused the problem. In some cases our feet start feeling better the same day, or even within a week. In other cases, the pain lingers and continues. It wavers and intensifies and subsides, playing into our emotions and making us feel crummy all over our body. Our mood changes, our feelings change, we become more sensitive, we get frustrated. You may even get mad at your body, thinking “why can’t you just work like you used to?!” Our feet can become painful because of overuse or from an injury. In some cases, the overuse is what leads to the injury.
So let’s review how much we expect from our feet.
You may not realize it, but when considering that the average number of steps human takes in a day is 7,500 – that means that in a week, 52,500 steps. In a lifetime (say about 80 years) you can expect to take around 216,212,500 steps. Every single step we take involves the use of over 100 tendons and muscles. Your foot absorbs shock from the ground and that energy transitions through 28 bones across 33 joints in each foot. It almost seems amazing then that we can do this. So maybe then it isn’t such a surprising statistic that 1 in 5 people experience foot pain.
If you are like me, you may have at some point gone through having a slight obsession with counting your steps. Whether it be your apple watch or your fitbit, the number of steps we take in a day is associated with health in several ways and so the media has really publicized about how many steps you should aim for in a day. 10,000 is what we are told to aim for. Now I said average is 7,500 steps. If many of us start aiming for 10,000 that can lead to more wear and tear on your feet.
All that being said, if we want our feet to last, it isn’t about doing less. Rather it is about doing enough of the appropriate activities to maintain health and strength of your feet and wearing the appropriate shoes and support. Making sure that you are providing your body all it needs to heal (eating right) is also a factor. Wanting our feet to carry us through life is also about ensuring you do not put off evaluation if pains do arise. Some systemic conditions can also arise that can lead to issues with your feet, so managing these also plays a huge role in maintaining foot health.
When it comes to shoes and support…
I always recommend that you consider what you will be doing and ensure your shoes are appropriate for that activity. If you sit at a desk, getting up only occasionally, a pair of dressy shoes without much cushion may be OK. If you have to park far out in the parking lot, re-think wearing those shoes on the way into the office. If you stand and walk a lot at work, you’ll need to be more practical with your shoe choices. There are brands of shoes that focus on designing shoes that look good but also feel good and won’t hurt your feet. Having once been young myself, I had to learn the hard lesson that cute shoes are bad for your feet. As stated early on in this article, you don’t realize how good you have it until you have pain.
Brands of shoes that our office recommends include Brooks, Saucony, New Balance, Asics, Clarks, Born, Aravon, Danskos, Vionic and Spenco (total recovery sandals). Each brand of shoe may fit your foot a bit differently, which is why there isn’t an end all be all shoe for everyone.
In addition to having a good, supportive, and well-built shoe, having proper support for your feet is also important. In a few cases, a prefabricated medical grade insert can help to reduce stress on your foot by adding extra support. If you have had a foot condition before or are currently experiencing one, the cause for that pain may be due to your foot structure and the resulting stress on your feet. It is for this reason that custom orthotics are the gold standard for support of your feet. Not only do they support the arch, but unlike prefabricated inserts, they allow your doctor to prescribe modifications and alterations that help to balance your foot structure and - in many cases - functionally correct your foot structure. This in turn leads to a more even distribution of weight when you are walking, running or active. Which of course means less wear and tear on any one given part of your foot.
Let’s talk about diet…
While this isn’t a nutritionist website, we know that what we eat can have a huge impact on our overall health. Having enough vitamins and minerals in our diet as well as protein helps to improve your body’s healing capabilities. As we get older, a couple of things that change are the health of the bones and our ability to heal. Bones in our body can become weak if we have low vitamin D or calcium levels. Having enough protein assists us in being able to synthesize collagen which aids in repair of tendons and ligaments. Having enough vitamins assists our bodies in healing and improves our immunity. So the adage about eating a balanced diet, rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins and a healthy about of carbohydrates is really important.
In addition to a regular balanced diet, managing underlying medical conditions can contribute to your overall satisfaction with foot health. Some systemic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease can greatly impact your overall health and foot stamina. Managing diabetes in particular has an important effect on your feet. The more controlled blood glucose levels are, the less likely you are to develop manifestations of diabetes including neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease that can more likely lead to infections, hospitalizations, even amputations if not addressed appropriately. Your endocrinologist or rheumatologist may bea n important part of your team along with your podiatrist in efforts to optimize your foot health.
There are always those freak accidents that are unavoidable and result in injury or pain in the foot. These injuries can lead to flare ups in pain over years of life and in some cases you can alleviate or manage this pain later down the line thankfully. However, it is always best to avoid injury in any case that is possible. One of the best way to avoid or prevent injury is to be sure that any changes or increases in activity are approached carefully. Rather than starting a brand new routine for exercise or activity at 100%, slow increase helps to allow our bodies to prepare for the new activity and to become accustomed to the new demands on our feet. Our bones strengthen in response to increased demand or time on them. They will become stronger, but if activities are progressed too quickly, they can become damaged. In addition, our tendons and muscles need to adapt to new activities. For this reason, stretching, warming up and allowing for recovery are critical.
Slow and steady wins the race…
If you want feet that will serve you a lifetime, give a lot of thought to the things you do and what you ask of them. You can have and accomplish fitness goals, but by approaching them with caution and ensuring your feet are the most supported they can be will serve you well. Eat nutritious foods that will help your body to recover from exercise and provide nutrients and vitamins and proteins that will help you become stronger on all levels. Approach new activities with caution and thought to avoid injury. Stretch and allow your body to recover between exercises. Also, if you encounter pain in your feet, don’t ignore it. The pain you feel is your body trying to tell you something. If you take a step back when you feel pain, it will reduce the likelihood that chronic conditions will develop. These chronic conditions are those which take longer to heal and have a higher likelihood to recover. If you rest several days and pain has not improved, seek evaluation sooner rather than later.
You are only as old as you feel and I must say that having chronic pain in your feet will may you feel older than you are! If you encounter difficulties in advancing activities because of your feet or if you purely want guidance and recommendations, please call our office. Our goal is to allow you to accomplish your ambitions and to be able to do that without pain in your feet. Our office is standing by and we would love the opportunity to help your feet support you. No matter what stage of life, we are equipped to help you with any concerns you might have and to help you get the tools to prevent injury and foot pain.