Foot pain. I notice that whether I’m working as a physical therapist, enjoying conversations with friends, working with elite runners, or instructing Pilates clients, foot pain seems to be rampant! While it would be nice if there were a cookie cutter cause and solution for this discomfort, this is definitely not the case. In fact, myriad reasons abound for why our feet hurt, as do ideas on what would bring relief.
To help you become a better detective regarding your own foot pain, I’d like to offer a few tips.
First, the amount of time spent on your feet counts. When we stand, our feet have to support the weight of our bodies, and the muscles of our legs and feet must work hard to keep us stable and upright. Extended periods of loading the foot tissues by standing can lead to muscle fatigue, stretched tendons, collapsed arches, and pain. Have you noticed how long hours on your feet can leave you feeling achy and craving a foot massage?
Second, the surface you’re standing on impacts your feet. Spending hours standing in a surgical suite feels quite different from the same hours on the golf course. And walking on the blacktop at the zoo can be much harder on your body than walking on carpet or linoleum.
Third, the type, quality, and design of your shoes can make a huge difference in whether you have happy or not-so-happy feet. While most of us understand the value of proper athletic shoes, it’s easy to overlook the impact of our daily footwear. For instance, the alignment of our feet is affected by how our shoes hit the ground, either offering or neglecting support of the arches. Some shoes offer cushion for the heels, while others feel like we’re walking on planks. Last but not least, how do your feet treat your toes? Do they allow space for the toes to spread comfortably, or do they make a fashion statement with a cute little point that hurts like hell?
Well, here’s the kicker: if problems with the feet go uncorrected, knee, hip, pelvis, back, and even neck pain may be in your future. Why? Because your body works as a total, complete system. The first thing touching the floor when we walk is our feet. The rest of the body adjusts. When we experience limitations in the feet, other body parts must compensate. This process strains your body, leads to poor alignment, and leaves you with more than just foot pain.
So, what should you do?
For starters, please do pay attention to what your feet are wearing! When was the last time you were properly fitted at a shoe store? If you’re in athletic shoes, have you had someone perform a gait analysis to determine where you load through the feet when you walk or run? You may have a subtle arch collapse that may be helped with orthotics or shoes that reduce the impact of over-pronation. Or you may need a more cushioned shoe if you bear weight more through the outside of the feet. Either way, having a qualified professional observe your gait and properly fit you can guide you to shoes that could reduce your pain and improve function.
But, you’re not done yet. While most people with foot pain can benefit from being more selective about the demands they put on their feet, and from proper footwear, these changes don’t provide the complete answer. People with foot pain quite often have a physical problem or limitation with the feet themselves. Whether actual problems with the feet have been caused by the strain and inadequate care we’ve just mentioned, or whether the feet themselves are the primal cause, collapsed arches, bone spurs, tight fascia, and restricted joints in the feet can really be uncomfortable.
But never fear! From plantar fasciitis to shin splints to heel pain and more, there are foot-specific exercises to help YOU! Activities that strengthen and stretch the musculature to support the arches, mobilize the fascia, and isolate toe work and movement can make a difference in how you feel when you’re on your feet. However… knowing which exercises are right for you and how to incorporate these into functional movements that eliminate pain during your day can be tricky.
And that’s where I come in. As a Runity trained coach and Polestar Pilates Rehab Practitioner, I’d love to share with you some simple yet effective, challenging yet rewarding, isolated yet total body movement patterns and strategies that can make a huge difference in how YOU feel and function. Through targeted strengthening and stretching of the feet, ankles, legs, and core, and careful monitoring of your alignment through movements and functional tasks, you will be better equipped to face the daily work or recreational tasks you enjoy most.
So remember, while physical therapists, podiatrists, and running shoe stores can offer you guidelines for your specific footwear needs and even offer you orthotics for “extra help,” YOU can also do a great deal to help yourself. And if you’re already receiving PT care for your hip, knee, back, pelvis, or neck, please ask her/him to check out your feet. Make sure that part of the equation is being addressed, or the benefit of your spine or neck program or your knee/hip rehab won’t be fully effective.
When we’re functioning at our best, each individual part of our bodies plays an important role in creating an integrated whole that works efficiently and painlessly. With a more conscious look at how your body works, and a little bit of training, you’ll empower yourself to reduce or eliminate pain, and be all that you can be.