Oh, my aching feet! How many times have you or yourself said that? I know I have lost count of how often I have complained about my feet hurting.
Did you know that the feet have 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 ligaments and muscles? Pretty impressive to all be contained in a neat tidy little package!
Let’s face reality, your feet support your entire framework, a.k.a. YOU, so it’s likely that from time to time you will notice some aches and pains. However, it’s vital that you recognize foot pain that isn’t normal and treat it accordingly to avoid further damage.
Here are a few of the most common foot injuries and how you should treat them.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation and micro-tearing of the plantar fascia muscle. The plantar fascia is a thin ligament that connects your heel to the front of your foot and helps to support your arch. Unfortunately this is a very common injury with multiple causes and can take quite a bit of time to resolve. Some of the causes could include: having tight calves and/or Achilles tendons, being overweight, being flat-footed, walking barefoot, or wearing soft soled shoes with poor arch support. This is also a common injury among runners, especially those who run in broken-down shoes.
Typically with plantar fasciitis you will notice deep heel pain, especially when first awaking in the morning and taking your first steps of the day, or after sitting for long periods of time. Walking up stairs can be difficult as well due to heel stiffness.
What can you do when you notice heel pain? First and foremost, make sure you are wearing proper shoes with good arch support. Oftentimes adding an insert in the shoe will help, such as either a custom-made one or one purchased over the counter. (I personally recommend SuperFeet brand). No barefoot walking! Wearing a night splint (Strassburg Sock, for example) has been shown to expedite healing.
Resting and stretching the calves several times a day as well as icing the area for 15-20 minutes at a time may help reduce inflammation. If the pain still persists, then it’s time to consult your doctor. Oftentimes a cortisone injection into the plantar fascia tendon will be suggested to reduce inflammation, but results of this treatment can be vary from person to person. In some cases, time will be simply what is needed to reduce the inflammation and promote healing.
Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which is a thick band of tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Pain and swelling is felt at the lower back of the leg, especially right above the base of your foot, and can be extreme. Like it’s cousin, Plantar fasciitis, the causes of Achilles tendonitis could be tight calves and/or wearing unsupportive footwear, as well as overuse from repetitive activity.
Treatment is similar too: rest, ice the area 15-20 minutes and stretch, being careful not to overstretch the tendon causing more damage. Proper footwear and the addition of orthotic inserts can also take some of the pressure off the Achilles tendon and relieve pain. Sometimes, wearing a medical grade compression sock can also relieve pain and pressure on the region and facilitate healing. Use caution resuming regular activity to avoid further inflammation and possible rupture of the Achilles tendon. Consult a doctor if the pain does not resolve itself after resting and icing for a period of time.
A stress fracture is a microscopic fracture of the bone. If left untreated with continued activity, it can lead to a complete bone fracture. In the feet we typically see stress fractures in the metatarsal bones, with the 2nd metatarsal being the most common. Causes can be from overuse, especially with certain sports that have a high frequency of repetitive activity such as running. Osteoporosis can also lead to stress fractures. Symptoms generally include soreness and pain, which develops gradually and improves with rest. With continued activity, pain will increase and tenderness/swelling may also be present.
Treatment involves resting the affected area, icing 15-20 minutes, and following up with a doctor if pain persists. Stress fractures may not show up on an X-ray in the initial stages because of their size, but a doctor should be able to diagnose based upon physical exam. In some cases immobilization in a walking boot may be required to facilitate healing of the injured area. Weight bearing activity is usually limited to keep as much pressure off the affected bones as possible.
Bunions can be one of the most common foot problems people encounter. Oftentimes a bunion will be present in someone who over-pronates, simply because the arch collapses more and we rely on the big toe to help us push-off vs. the ball of the foot. Heredity also comes into play with bunions, as well as wearing tight-fitting high-heeled shoes.
Bunions can be fairly prominent and easy to diagnose simply because of their appearance, as the big toe curves inward towards the other toes, and a bump is seen on the medial side of the foot.
Bunions can be painful, especially when wearing a shoe that isn’t wide enough. Toe spacers can offer some relief to bunion pain, wearing a good supportive shoe to accommodate the width of the foot, and the addition of an orthotic. An orthopedist can determine the severity of a bunion and recommend surgery if deemed fit. Unfortunately once a bunion appears, it’s very difficult to find a high heel shoe that is comfortable!
The moral of this story is Mom was right! It’s crucial to your overall foot health to wear GOOD SHOES with proper support! If there is a local running store in your area, visit them. They can do a gait analysis of your foot and measure properly, ensuring that you are in the proper footwear for your needs. Once you are in the perfect shoe, pay attention to the mileage and/or date your purchased your shoes. A good walking or running shoe has a lifespan of 300-500 miles or 4-6 months. Pay attention to how things are feeling after you’ve had the shoes for a while, and if aches and pain reappear, that’s your cue to replace the shoes!
Synthetic or wool socks are also much better choices for the overall health of your foot – unlike cotton, both will wick the sweat away from your skin, preventing blisters and inhibiting the growth of bacteria.
Take care of your precious feet – they work hard for you!
Do you have questions about your feet or foot injuries? Leave a comment below and personal trainer Jill Csillag will respond.