How to Treat Your Feet
Get The Right Fit With Your Footwear

Leonardo da Vinci called the human foot "a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." This complex structure contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 120 muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Our feet carry the weight of our bodies for thousands of steps each day.

Not surprisingly, the feet are some of the most commonly injured parts of the body. About 75 percent of Americans will experience foot pain during their lifetimes. Moreover, foot problems can cause a chain reaction to rise up the body, that can lead to knee, hip, and back pain. Some foot pain is caused by various medical conditions, such as diabetes, gout, and arthritis but most are completely preventable. Keep reading to learn how to keep your feet and lower body healthy, so that you can stay mobile and vital.

The Real Cause of Most Foot Pain

Most of us have worn shoes daily since birth, so we do not tend to think about how footwear affects the body. Shoes protect the feet from the elements, provide comfort, and can make a fashion statement but they also alter the structure of our feet. The Chinese practice of foot binding is an extreme example of how footwear can change the body. Modern shoes, even sneakers and running shoes, also shape the structure of the foot. Moreover, most foot pain is caused by shoes that constrict and bind the feet, ankles, and toes into unnatural positions.

Shoes Shape Our Feet - How to Treat Your Feet

It may seem counterintuitive but barefoot populations experience few of the foot deformities and conditions that we do in modern societies. In the 1940s, podiatrist Samuel B. Schulman studied people who’d never worn shoes, in various parts of India and China, including rickshaw drivers who ran barefoot all day on cobblestone streets. He reported that their feet were remarkably dexterous and that they suffered little foot pain or disability.

Feet are the Foundation for a Healthy Body

Foot pain and disability are serious because they limit mobility, which has a huge impact on the quality of life. Moreover, weaknesses in the foot, such as collapsed arches, change the way a person stands, moves, and walks and can contribute to ankle, back, knee, and hip pain.

There are conflicting ways to approach foot weakness. The most common remedy is to rely on arch supports or orthotics to hold up the weakened structure of the foot. These devices passively support the foot and can relieve pain in the short term. However, because the foot muscles no longer need to function on their own, supportive devices can contribute to further weakening of the muscles. Wearing them can also increase loads placed on the ankle and knee joints. Furthermore, they only help when you’re wearing them, so walking barefoot is often still painful.

An alternative strategy is to exercise and strengthen the feet so that they function better. This strategy requires work and takes longer but it’s a long-term solution that can positively impact the entire body.

Build Strong Flexible Feet - How to Treat Your Feet

The Benefits of Walking Barefoot

Walking around barefoot more often is a simple way to strengthen the feet and research, by Patrick McKeon, at Ithaca College, suggests it has benefits beyond strengthening. He describes a feedback loop between the brain, the small muscles in the feet, and the large muscles in the feet and legs. To understand how the loop works, think about how you intrinsically step down when you’re wearing heavy boots compared to walking barefoot. Because of the communication between your brain and the bottom of your feet, you step down more lightly when your feet are bare and naturally adjust your posture and gait based on the surface you’re walking on.

The feedback loop is broken when we wear shoes, causing the larger muscles in the feet and legs to “over-compensate and over-exert past the point of exhaustion and the natural ability to repair,” according to McKeon. McKeon says this breakdown is a common cause of overuse injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis and he advises people to shed footwear whenever possible to reactivate the loop.,-shin-splints,-and-other-common-injuries-40536/ - .WCeFU2WMDVo

Footwear for Healthy Feet

Going barefoot more often helps you build strong feet and reactivate the connection between the brain and the ground but most of us need to regularly wear shoes for all sorts of reasons, including weather, debris, cultural norms, fashion, and institutional expectations. The bottom line? All footwear, even socks, affect the feet and biomechanics of the body but some have a more detrimental effect than others.

In one study, researchers measured how different footwear loaded the ankle, knee, and hip joints. Walking barefoot was associated with the least impact on the joints, likely because of the feedback loop McKeon describes. Supportive, stabilizing shoes were associated with the biggest loads on the joints. Of the shoes studied, flat shoes with a flexible sole were associated with the least joint impact.

A good rule of thumb is to look for shoes that interfere the least with the natural functioning of the feet and body. These shoes have a wide toe box that allows the toes to spread out, a flexible sole that allows the foot to move, and a minimal heel to preserve the natural alignment of the body.

However, if you’ve been wearing heavily cushioned shoes or orthotics, don’t ditch them overnight. The feet are just like any other body part. Asking the muscles to work more without proper conditioning can lead to fatigue, pain, and overuse injuries. Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and author of Whole Body Barefoot, advocates transitioning to minimal shoes but advises people do foot exercises, walk barefoot more often, and gradually transition into wearing them full time. (If you have a foot condition or injury, do some research first and consult with your podiatrist or physical therapist.)

In addition to shoes, most people wear socks for warmth and comfort. Socks can also affect the way that we move and walk. For example, they can limit how much the toes spread and cause the feet to slide around inside the shoes. They’re also linked with some persistent foot conditions, such as fungal and yeast infections.

Research is limited but a few studies shed light on what kind of sock material may be best. In a military study, synthetic material prevented the formation of blisters better than wool. In another study, cushioned acrylic and wool socks were found to absorb shock better than cotton. As with shoes, socks should interfere as little as possible with the proper functioning of the body. Look for socks made of breathable fabric that allow the feet and toes to spread out as much as possible. If you’re battling foot or toenail infections, wash your socks in hot water.

It’s best to avoid regularly wearing any footwear that unnecessarily constricts or binds the feet or dramatically alters the way you walk. Although, it’s okay to do so occasionally or on special occasions. The worst culprits are pointy-toed shoes, shoes with stiff soles, flip flops, and high heels.

Cost of High Heels - How to Treat Your Feet

Make Sure the Shoe Fits

No matter what footwear you choose, make sure it fits correctly. In an United Kingdom study, nearly one third of men and half of women admitted to buying shoes that were too small.

Follow these common-sense tips for getting the right fit:

  • Buy shoes late in the day.
  • Wear the type of sock that you’ll wear most often with the shoe.
  • Always measure both feet in socks to determine their current size.
  • Spread the toes out to make sure the shoe is wide enough.
  • Stand and make sure there’s a finger width of room between the big toe and the tip.
  • Don’t assume shoes will stretch or become more comfortable over time.
  • Try on several pairs of shoes.
  • Walk around the store in the shoes before buying them.

The Feet Matter

Too often, people neglect their feet until pain sets in somewhere around the body. However, our feet are remarkable structures that serve as the foundation of our bodies and they benefit from stretching, strengthening, and conditioning just like any other body part. Treat them right and choose footwear that allows them to work the way that they’re supposed to and you’ll encourage whole body health.

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