14 tips for happy, healthy feet
It's time to put your feet first. Podiatrist Heidi Meckler shares her top foot health tips (that have bonus full-body benefits).
1 Choose Leather
Natural fibres such as leather 'breathe', flex, stretch and mould to your foot shape. This enables the shoe to conform to the uniqueness of your foot, allowing natural movement. The natural flow of air and the breathability of leather keeps feet cooler and freer from friction - which means blisters and rashes are less likely to occur.
2 Find footwear with a deep Heel Cup
The bottom of your heel isn't flat: it's rounded, which means a good, deep heel cup is needed to support and cradle your heel bone. When you walk, your heel hits the ground first, so supporting this part of the foot creates a firm foundation for your first step. This means that as you start to walk, your feet, knees and back are likely to be in a more stable position as a result. It's a bit like making sure that the table you're sitting at is stable before you put your coffee cup or wine glass down!
3 Aim for a Contoured Arch Support
The natural structure of the arch in your foot is made up of a series of soft tissue, ligaments and bones. Many of us can experience problems if our arches start to drop or roll in and this can be even more significant if we walk a lot on hard, unnatural surfaces such as concrete. Some footwear brands have an inbuilt contoured arch profile which matches your body's natural geometry. This supports the intricate structures of your foot, helping to prevent pain and damage.
4 Seek out Substantial soles
Ultra-thin bottoms are torture as there's nothing between your feet and the street. Luckily, some of today's hippest styles have solid bottoms that act as shock absorbers. When toes have to grip to keep the shoe on, it causes tiny tears in the ligaments of the arch (aka plantar fasciitis). I blame trendy thongs for the many cases of arch pain I treated last summer in my practice.
5 Try Metatarsal dome Support
Like the arch, the ball of your foot is not flat either. The bones that make up your forefoot, called the metatarsals, form a gradual shallow arch. This arch can effectively bottom out if unsupported, which can lead to problems. Incorporating a 'metatarsal dome' into shoe footbeds helps to support your natural forefoot arch and spread any high-pressure points over a wider area.
6 Adjust your show shape
Adjustability is a plus. Look for laces, straps or ties that can be loosened when the foot swells. On very hot days or days when you walk a lot, your feet can naturally swell. Velcro straps and other ties let you adapt footwear to changing circumstances.
7 Remember sizes aren't standardised
A 6 from one brand may be a 5 or 7 from another so don't fixate on a number - always try on a half size larger or smaller as well. To avoid buying shoes that are too tight, shop later in the day, when a bit of swelling is normal. And get remeasured yearly: feet flatten and widen with age, pregnancy and weight gain (if you slim down, your feet do too). According to a study of 2,000 people, by the British College of Podiatry, a staggering 50pc of women have worn shoes that don't fit properly! So if you're unsure - and bear in mind that your foot shape and size can change, especially after pregnancy - get yourself measured.
8 Change your shoes
Never wear the same shoes two days in a row, much less for an entire trip. It puts repeated pressure on identical areas of the foot, causing irritation and letting misalignment problems get entrenched. Natural fabrics which allow your feet to breathe are essential along with well-fitting supportive footwear with adequately thick soles. Your toes need room to wiggle. If they can't, your footwear is too tight and this can also lead to problems with circulation.
9 Limit walking in work/party heels
Try not to stand or walk around in heels higher than two inches for more than four hours straight. If you do wear way-high heels on a big night out, ice your feet when you get home to curb any swelling or pain.
10 Be Aware of your Weight
As your body's essential support system, your feet can take a lot of weight, but every pound you gain means an extra three pounds of pressure in your ankle region. Yet another reason to always maintain a healthy weight.
11 Treat your Feet Well
If you're prone to fungal infections such as athlete's foot, try adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a foot bath once a week. Moisture between the toes can also be controlled by applying a little surgical spirit to the area using a cotton bud. These problems can be worse in the winter because your feet are cooped up in shoes all day. Keep your nails in good condition by removing varnish regularly and giving them a bit of a breather. Bacteria can build up under old nail varnish and this isn't a good thing! A bit of tea tree oil or olive oil rubbed into your nails can keep them in good condition. Treating yourself to a pedicure will also make your nails and feet look and feel great. You can do a level of home maintenance on your feet but if you have let your feet go, kickstart your new routine with a trip to a podiatrist. They will be able to give you a full foot assessment, treatment and advice tailored to your needs.
12 Limber Up
Happy feet need to move and be nimble for good health. To keep your feet limber, do stretches such as writing the alphabet with pointed toes. To massage your arches, roll your feet over a tennis ball for a few minutes a day. And to stretch your ankle and calf, extend your knee, place a towel around the ball of your foot and pull your toes toward you.
13 Maximise your sock options
Ill-fitting socks are one of the primary causes of blisters. Wet socks can lead to blistering but this is very preventable. Fit is as important in socks as it is in shoes. Make sure you try on socks with shoes, especially running shoes.
14 Put your best food forward in Pregnancy (Hint: no heels)
It's one of the defining moments of being pregnant: the realisation that the four-inch heels you once wore easily now have you groaning in pain. Extra weight, an altered centre of gravity and softening ligaments all conspire to make beloved stilettos a no-no for expectant mothers. The official line from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists is that after the first trimester, pregnant women should avoid wearing high heels - and that means above two inches. Anything higher could put a strain on the lower back, knees, toes and balls of the feet. Prolonged wear of high heels in pregnancy can lead to back, knee and foot pain.
Heidi Meckler holds a BSc in podiatry and an MSc in clinical podiatric biomechanics. She has worked as a musculoskeletal specialist for the NHS as well as in private practice. Heidi is an ambassador for Strive footwear, which helps to reduce many of the aches and pains associated with unsupportive footwear; see strivefootwear.com
Health & Living