By Shellie Rosen, Ph.D., Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)®, DOM, L.Ac.
Our feet are overlooked, hard-working, and a source of chronic pain. A 2019 National Institutes of Health Survey found that 50.2 million adults reported pain on most days or every day, with the most common pain locations being the back, hips, knees, and feet.
Addressing foot health reduces pain. Feet hold 25 percent of the bones in our entire body. Each foot has 107 ligaments, 33 joints, 26 bones, 19 muscles, and thousands of nerves (not including the ankle). Healthy weight, proper alignment, and regular foot stretching help the whole body.
The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research has published systematic reviews connecting obesity to foot pain, plantar heel pain, flat foot, poor foot function, and musculoskeletal disorders. The findings also revealed a relationship between foot health, obesity, metabolic, and biomechanical factors. Healthy circulation is also directly related to foot health. Folks with diabetes are at the highest risk (greater than 65 percent) of experiencing a foot problem due to nerve and circulatory side effects from their condition. Anything you can do to achieve metabolic balance and reduce body mass will benefit your feet.
Genetics play a role in how our feet respond to stress, so take extra precautions if your feet are predisposed to deformity. Avoid high heels, dress shoes, flip-flops, or poorly designed sneakers with unnatural curvature, cramped foot space, and synthetic material. These shoes are often involved in conditions such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, heel spur, Morton’s neuroma, metatarsalgia, neuropathy, sesamoiditis, hammer toe, claw toe, corns, and blisters. Running generates the pressure of four times one’s body weight on the feet; running in the wrong shoes can be worse than being barefoot.
Shoes train us to strike the ground heel first with a straighter leg, and the impact travels through the body. When barefoot, the ball of the foot hits the ground, and our knees remain bent, referred to as a “fox walk.” Proper shoe wear may be helpful; however, it deadens the sensations of being barefoot, which leads to natural behavior modifications. Evidence shows that splints, orthotics, and toe separators can help reduce pain. These applied devices may not miraculously remove a foot deformity; instead, they slowly retrain foot mechanics by gently stretching tight muscles, ligaments, and tissues from years of contractions. Stretching feet to counteract a deformation may require a device worn at night, a shoe orthotic daily, as well as massage and exercise.
Some foot conditions may require surgery, but your results may surprise you if you address the core issues first. A knife is not the only way to shift the structural deformities of a foot; a firm hand goes a long way! Massage your feet with your hands or by rolling them on a tennis ball or wooden rod while seated in a chair. out areas of the body that are sensitive, firm, or overly padded, in addition to taut ligaments and muscles. Routinely massage and stretch these areas to encourage healing, and begin gently if you have significant pain. Free online education can demonstrate specific stretches and techniques for your particular condition. If you need support, find a skilled therapist to help you stick with a plan.
In the lyrics of Glori Esteban, now is an excellent time to, “Get on your feet, stand up and take some action.” Abundant Foot Blessings!