15 simple tips for happy feet
The feet provide a foundation for the entire body structure, but nonetheless are often forgotten about and neglected. In her new book, nurse Isobel Guckian advises on how to best care for your precious tootsies.
1 Listen to your body
We might love running, but pounding the pavements sends shock waves right through the body from the feet. In podiatry, this is called the "ground reaction force" and it can cause injury. If you suddenly return to a running regime after a long period of inactivity, you may suffer injury if you do too much too quickly. The damage is manifested through pain in the feet and limbs, which can literally stop you in your tracks.
It's important to ease the body into strenuous physical activity by starting with non-weight-bearing exercise, such as swimming, cycling or gentle walking, to allow you to build up your level of activity gradually. This prevents foot, leg and back injury.
2 Change your runners
To prevent injury, you need to wear proper footwear - and if you run two or three times a week, you'll need to change your runners every six months.This is because running shoes wear down and the muscles of the foot and leg may be pulled in the wrong direction and can tear. Between 40-50pc of below-the-knee injuries occur in people who run regularly, and 10-20pc of these injuries happen in the foot.
Muscle is attached to bone, so if the muscle is being pulled the wrong way, it pulls on the bone. The result: stress fractures, tears and strains and, in a worst case scenario, the muscle will be torn from the bone, resulting in a serious injury which can immobilise you.
3 Heel Pain
If you're getting pain in the heel when you put your foot to the ground first thing in the morning, you may have a condition called 'plantar fasciitis'.
There is a band of fibrous tissue on the sole of the foot called the plantar fascia. This protects the layers of muscles on the sole of the foot and keeps the arches from 'falling'. If the arches are under pressure because, for example, you've put on a stone in weight, are pregnant or don't do regular stretches, the fascia pull away from the heel bone, causing pain.
The pain will settle if you have a foot bath in very warm water and Epsom salts for half an hour, twice daily, reduce exercise and get a good 'off-the-shelf' insole. This helps support the fascia and reduces the pain you experience until the baby is born, you lose the weight or start to stretch daily.
4 Stretch if you wear heels
When we wear high heels, our Achilles tendon can become too tight. It begins to pull off the heel bone, just above the heel at the back of the leg. This causes pain when you slip into flat shoes. This pain in the calf is the muscle telling you that it's being strained. When this happens, it's important to do some gentle stretches: place a very thick book on the ground, leaving your heel on the ground, place the front of your foot on to the book, keeping your body straight. Hold that pose for three minutes. If the pain is too much, lower the thickness of the book.
If you do this once a day, you should be able to wear both high heels and flat shoes without discomfort. Research shows that regular stretches and physiotherapy are much better then occasional stretches, so if you want to keep those high heels on, do the stretches regularly.
5 Diabetes and your feet
The main problem with people who have diabetes is that the blood sugars in the body are out of control. This needs to be managed with a special diet or medication in the form of tablets or insulin. If the blood sugars are not controlled properly, it affects the nerves of the body, including those in the feet and they stop functioning properly. This condition is called 'neuropathy'.
When a person with neuropathy steps on a sharp object, he or she may not feel anything, even if the foot is injured. The resultant lacerations may become infected, causing ulceration and sometimes more serious problems. It's crucial to control your blood sugars.
6 The big toe
The big toe is very important for balance, stability and for propelling us from one foot to the other. However, if the movement of the bones in our big toe is restricted, it can cause inflammation of the joints in the big toe which, in turn, results in pain and even injury.
This problem can occur if we wear shoes which are too tight or simply from wearing high heels too often and for extended periods of time. Patients will often find that if they simply change their shoes, the pain will disappear.
7 Footballer's toe
When something heavy falls on the toe or the toe receives repetitive blows from kicking footballs, the delicate blood vessels supplying the nails can be damaged.
This causes the nails to grow in. Any attempts to trim the misshapen nails may result in infection.
It is advisable to consult a podiatrist in such circumstances, says nurse Isobel Guckian: "Medical evidence concludes that the nail surgery carried out by podiatrists is the most successful."
8 Golfer's foot
Golfer's foot is actually 'ringworm', also known as 'athlete's foot' or 'tinea pedis'.
It can feel like an itch between the toes, but it is a fungus on the skin.
If you don't treat it rapidly, it can cause cracks in the skin, which, in turn, may result in a bacterial infection leading to a swelling of the lower leg called cellulitis. This can be so serious, you may have to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics.
The problem may recur, even when treated.
Use a spray and special medicated powder, advises Guckian: "Any ordinary commercial spray deodorant with alcohol in it, can be effective in preventing infection if you use it daily, along with the appropriate medicated powder, which you can get from your chemist."
9 Verrucae - scars of a hectic life
A verruca is a lesion on the foot which appears when the body is under stress - even the psychological stress involved in moving house or changing job!
Verruca is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which flares up when the body's defences are down. "It's a sign that the body needs help - and your body is telling you by creating this lesion on your foot," says Gukian, who recommends that otherwise healthy adults take a good multivitamin for three months, and children, for one month.
10 Children and their feet
A study done in Glasgow University in 2005 found that 83pc of children were wearing shoes that were too small for them.
"Children's feet grow very quickly - so watch out for a child complaining of pain in their legs or a child who falls frequently. Shoes and feet are the foundation of the body movements. Remember, if growing feet are restricted in any way, it causes pain and can affect the development of the hips."
When you wear fashion shoes or shoes that put pressure on the feet, the body complains by creating a tough skin or a corn, to protect itself against that pressure. Very often, if you change the size of shoe you wear, or wear small or narrow shoes less often, the corn will not develop.
"I have found that wearing a tight-fitting shoe for extended periods rings alarm bells in the body, which immediately builds up a barrier of tough skin, which is called a corn," says Guckian.
Long-term, this hard skin can cause pain and make walking difficult, she warns.
12 Ball of foot pain
This usually occurs in people who wear high heels a lot.
Wearing high heels eight hours a day, five days a week, can cause the nerves of the foot to swell, creating pressure against the bones and ligaments of the foot. This can make walking very painful until you take off the shoes or change into something more comfortable.
13 Pregnancy and your feet
When the body is preparing for the birth of a baby, a hormone called relaxin is released, loosening the muscles around the hips and pelvis.
Relaxin, however, also loosens the muscles and tendons of the feet - and sometimes mums-to-be can find that they have gone up a shoe-size or are experiencing swollen feet or heel pain. Off-the-shelf insoles can help, says Guckian.
14 Sex and your feet
There is a powerful connection between the brain and the feet.
The Chinese believe that by massaging the feet, it can increase the energy to the genital area and thus increase libido. So sit down with your loved one and massage each other's feet at the end of the day - you never know where it can lead!
15 Cracked heels
During the summer or on a holiday in the sun, the skin on the heels can get very dry due to lack of moisture.
This can also happen in the winter if the central heating is on a lot in the house.
A lot of people think that soaking in water and rubbing the skin with a pumice stone will make it better. However, it does exactly the opposite. The friction from the rubbing causes dry, sore, cracked heels. Far better to rub an emulsifying ointment into the skin daily. This keeps the skin moisturised, preventing cracks and soreness.
* Floor Play: You will never look at your feet in the same way again by Isobel Guckian, is published by Barrett Business Communications, at a special price to Irish Independent readers of €15, obtainable through BodyRight Chartered Physiotherapy, 18 Berkeley Street, Phibsborough, D7, at bodyrightphysio.ie or by phone (01) 8300100.
Health & Living