They are the foundation of your day whether for work, sport, chasing the kids, going up stairs and just about anything that does not involve sitting down. Of course we are talking about your feet.
Between the two of them, your feet contain 52 bones, or about a quarter of your whole body’s. There are 33 joints and more than a hundred tendons, ligaments and muscles. And did you know that each foot contains 125,000 sweat glands? Your feet can perspire up to a cup a day! That explains a lot, doesn’t it?
Problems with feet are common. They can throw off normal biomechanics leading to knee, hip and lower back pain. Some three-quarters of us will have foot-related pain issues at some point. Many common foot problems evolve over time because of abnormalities in the foot or problems with gait or stance. Medical conditions like diabetes, obesity and osteoarthritis also contribute to foot disorders and problems of their own. And the problems may be aggravated by ill-fitting shoes or poor choices in footwear.
A bunion is a bony hump that forms at the base of the big toe where it attaches to the foot. Often this is due to the big toe deviating towards the other toes. The cause of bunions is not really understood but it does run in families. It is likely related to the biomechanics of the foot and toes. To remedy the pain of bunions try rest, pain relievers and more suitable shoes. In cases of severe pain, surgery can be an option, but never for cosmetic reasons as the risk is greater than the benefit.
Hammertoes occur when toes are bent at the middle joint. This can be linked to muscle imbalance in the foot arising from wearing high heels or shoes with a too-short toe box. They occur in one of the three middle toes which can become very painful and interfere with walking. Another contributor may be putting your toes in a ‘grip’ position such as while wearing flip-flops. To improve the situation, choose low-heeled shoes with soft, roomy toe areas, or wear sandals. A physical therapist can recommend ways to help retrain the toes, especially if diagnosed early.
Another common ailment is caused when the big toe, usually, is forcefully bent up beyond the normal range of motion. This sprain is called ‘turf toe’ but it can happen in many settings. It arises when the shoe grips the surface while your body continues forward and may be related to wearing overly flexible shoes with poor support. Treating turf toe should be done right away when it’s noticed with ice, rest and elevating the foot to reduce swelling. Because the injury may become chronic, it’s best to seek treatment in all but the mildest cases.
Stress fractures are very common sports injuries. These are tiny breaks in the bone, usually caused by repetitive stress from activities like running. Although they can be quite painful, they usually heal themselves if rested for a few months. Stress fractures typically do not show up in x-rays.
Wearing proper footwear is the first step in good foot health, both for prevention and remediation. To get the right fit when choosing a shoe, start by having your feet measured. Size can change during your life and because almost everyone has different sized feet, it will help you to pick a size to fit the larger one. Do your shoe shopping at the end of the day because your feet will have expanded and swelled. A good fit means having about a centimetre of space between the longest toe and the tip of the shoe. You should also be able to wiggle toes upward. Make sure there is enough room at the widest part of the foot and never buy uncomfortable shoes that you plan to ‘break in’ — it won’t work and could cause problems.
Avoid high heels. They can cause deformities by applying force to the forefoot and can pinch due to narrow toe boxes. If you must have high heels, at least save them for special occasion.
And remember, if you take care of your feet, they will take care of you.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.