15 simple steps to healthy feet
They're one of the hardest-working parts of our bodies, whether we're using them to exercise or get from A to B, yet many of us only take an interest in our feet when it's sunshine season. They deserve more from us, says Arlene Harris, as she asks the experts for tips on how to have fit feet all year round
They probably take up more slack than any other part of our bodies, but apart from getting them 'beach ready' in the weeks leading up to open-toe sandal-season, most of us ignore our feet. Despite the fact that they support all of our body weight, transport us from A to B and play a major role in our exercise routine, we pay them little attention until an injury forces us to look south.
Comprised of 26 bones along with muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, the foot also contains many different types of sensory organs which give feedback to the brain on position, balance, function and pain. So it is imperative that we take time out to look after our feet as their health has a ripple effect on other parts of the body.
We asked several experts for their top tips on how to ensure optimum foot health.
1 Pay attention to your tootsies
They may have been made for walking but many serious medical conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders can cause symptoms in the feet. Podiatrist John Weir of Coslia Foot Clinic in Ennis, Co Clare says; "Conditions such as diabetes may give rise to certain foot problems so anyone at risk from this should take particular care of their feet," he advises.
2 Maintainence is key
The foot expert also says that issues with the feet could lead to other joint problems. "Abnormal foot biomechanics may lead to postural problems in more proximal joints such as knee, hip and back," he says. "Our feet work as shock absorbers when we land or heel-strike but also change properties to propel our bodies forward into the next step.
"So every day environmental factors such as poor footwear or an inordinate amount of time spent standing can also have a profound effect on our feet and lower limbs. Having well-maintained and normally functioning feet allows for a normal healthy lifestyle."
3 Fashion's a high-risk game
John Linehan, of comfort footwear specialists Foot Solutions, says women suffer more than men as nine out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small for their feet.
"Women are four times more likely to have foot problems than men," he says. "This is partly because high fashion shoes do not often have enough support or cushioning to protect the foot from impact and injury and can cause uneven pressure on the bones and ligaments.
"Statistics also show that the average woman walks three miles further each day than the average man, so their feet are under greater stress, too."
4 Time shoe shopping trips
Linehan also says that when it comes to shoe shopping, it is important to plan ahead. "Our feet tend to swell throughout the day, so it's a good idea to go shopping for shoes in the afternoon to ensure you buy the right size for your feet when they're at their largest," he advises. "Most people have one foot bigger than the other, so always fit shoes to your larger foot, while standing up."
5 Get sufficient support
"Flip flops may be handy for walking around at the swimming pool, but they don't give your feet enough support to be worn all summer and are a common cause of strained ankles, broken toes, tendonitis and plantar fasciitis," Linehan continues. "Look for sandals with good arch support and cushioned soles to give you the support you need."
6 Keep heels to a minimum
Podiatrist John Weir agrees and says the same applies to high heels. "High heels are fine if worn occasionally for short periods of time," he says. "Regular long-term usage can cause substantial foot and postural changes. The compensation patterns that are created in a high heel are linked with foot, back and muscle pain."
7 Prepare for pregnancy feet
And the foot issues continue for women as midwife Tracy Donegan says pregnancy hormones and extra baby weight can play havoc with women's feet, so it is vital to wear looser shoes during pregnancy. "Pregnancy hormones affect the veins in the legs, making it harder for blood flow to return to the heart, so mums to be can experience swelling in the calves and feet," she says. "Water retention is also a contributing factor so wear loose comfortable footwear but make sure it offers good support."
8 Take it easy
The midwife also encourages pregnant women to take the weight off their feet. "My advice to mums-to-be would be to sit whenever they can," she says. "They should also put their feet up in the evening times and ask their partner for a foot rub. Reflexology can be very helpful and also reduces stress."
9 Take the pressure off
Luckily for the rest of us, putting our feet up is also recommended by John Linehan of Foot Solutions. "The forces on your feet during an average day can total hundreds of tons," he says. "And the pressure on your feet when running can be as much as four times your body weight so give your feet a chance to take it easy, rest with feet elevated when you can and treat them to a restorative foot massage now and then."
10 Choose shoes wisely
Richard Brennan of the Alexander Technique Centre in Moycullen, Galway also says the type of shoe people wear is extremely important for good posture and freedom of movement. "Ideally the shoes we wear should be very flexible and give our feet room to move freely," he advises. "As the weight of our body moves to the front of the foot in walking, the toes are splayed apart which triggers the plantar flexion reflex and that literally springs the body into the next step with ease. Many shoes are much too ridged and therefore that mechanism is interfered with."
11 Go barefoot
The posture expert says spending time barefoot is very beneficial. "It's important to re-discover the natural way of walking that nearly all of us had as children," he says. "In unshod populations the foot naturally flexes at 55 degrees and this seems to be an important indicator that the gait has not been tampered with. So while this 55-degree flexion is sometimes possible in shoes, it still puts extra strain and stress on the foot."
12 Develop good gait
John Weir says developing a good gait can help to maintain foot health. "Good gait can be developed and to some extent taught," he says. "With treatment and good muscle strengthening programmes a more efficient gait pattern may be constructed. Abnormal gait patterns are easily spotted by the trained eye and identifying the source of the anomaly and addressing it is the speciality of a muscle-skeletal podiatrist."
13 Exercise more
And on the subject of walking, the podiatrist says exercise is vital for the overall health of your body but it is important to keep our feet up to the job. "On average we should take about 10,000 steps daily and can only achieve this if we have healthy feet," he says. "Exercise such as walking, jogging and cycling contribute to efficient muscle function and encourages our joints to function through a normal range of motion. But simple daily exercises such as heel raises (lifting your body weight onto your toes slowly), picking up a pencil with your toes and scrunching up your toes are all simple, easily done exercises, which contribute to healthy feet."
14 Keep them clean
A spokesperson for the HSE says cleanliness is also a vital factor and advises not to wear the same shoes every day, to keep feet clean and remember to change socks. "For healthy, clean feet, alternate your shoes regularly to prevent bacteria building up," says the spokeswoman. "You should change your socks at least once daily, wash your feet regularly and try antibacterial insoles if you have a problem with foot odour. Also remember to keep toenails cut straight across and use a moisturising foot cream daily."
15 Consult a professional
Seek expert advice if you have a concern regarding your foot health. A good podiatrist is in a position to diagnose and treat many foot conditions and knows when it is appropriate to refer patients on for further testing or surgical intervention.
* For more information see hse.ie
Health & Living