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Q: My feet hurt all the time. I can’t play sports or even take walks, and I’m concerned my fitness will evaporate. Help! —Helen E., Nashville, Tenn.
A: The average person takes 10,000 steps per day, and most of us will experience foot pain at some time during our lives, especially women. Women have wider hips than knees, which puts stress on the inner (medial) knee and tends to cause pronation (rolling the foot inward). Women are also more likely to wear heels, which cause the Achilles tendon to tighten and may lead to plantar fasciitis.
Treating Plantar Fascitis
If you have heel pain, you may have plantar fasciitis. If pain lasts longer that three weeks you should see your health care provider. That said, a program of deep gentle stretching of the Achilles tendon (stand on the edge of a step and allow one heel at a time to hang over) should resolve pain within a few weeks. If not, consider neuroprolotherapy, a technique similar to acupuncture that can be quite effective for stubborn heel pain. Also try a no-sugar, low-red-meat diet with lots of colorful veggies plus turmeric, ginger, cayenne, and essential fatty acids. Stay hydrated, and take digestive enzymes twice daily on an empty stomach to break down debris of injured tissue.
And don’t neglect your feet as part of your daily hygiene. Keep them clean and dry, and moisturize as you would the rest of your skin. Cut your toenails across the top (not in a curved line) to minimize the risk of ingrown toenails.
The Best Shoes & Inserts to Prevent Foot Pain
An easy way to prevent one common cause of foot pain is to shop for shoes in the afternoon, rather than in the morning, as feet tend to swell slightly during the day. It’s also likely that one of your feet is larger than the other, so buy shoes to fit the larger foot.
In general, feet are happier in flat, wide, flexible shoes. This includes hiking and sports shoes. The human body does best when the foot can move in response to the terrain. We are designed to hike in uneven terrain. Stiff-soled boots and arch support are often recommended, but going without this “support” can actually prevent injuries, especially ankle sprains.
This isn’t to say that orthotics aren’t helpful. They definitely can be. And supportive socks can reduce swelling and varicosities. Jobst is a good brand for support socks, and I especially like SensiFoot socks to invigorate circulation. My favorite over-the-counter orthotics for high-impact activities are SUPERFeet, available at most outdoor gear stores.
Toe spacers and all sorts of soft, wooly pads designed for foot ailments are available at hapad.com. Neuroma pads can ease that pain while you address the underlying problem, which usually stems from shoes that are too narrow, and thus pinch the foot bones together, entrapping a nerve. Some people also get immense relief from magnetic therapy. Magnetized socks designed to be worn to bed are an effortless way to treat foot pain in your sleep.
One of my favorite health habits is to walk every morning in ankle-deep cold water for one minute. This not only causes rebound circulation to the entire body, but also acts as a profound tonic to the feet. It’s a really great way to start the day (after skin brushing).