Attractive as they may be to many people, feet don’t have an enviable life. Even if you’re not worried about your weight your body is still a large and fairly heavy object, and it spends much of its time being supported by your feet. Even when you’re sitting down your feet are still taking a large share of your weight, and when you start walking the force generated by every step is about four times what you weigh. With the average American male now tipping the scales at 196 pounds a lot of force is involved here. Running, one of the most popular ways of keeping fit, can almost double that again. Clearly your feet are doing a lot of work.
On the positive side, feet are highly adapted to the job they have to do. Each of your feet contains 26 bones, connected by 33 joints and acting as a framework for over a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons. All these elements work together to create a strong, flexible structure that can change its shape to assist with movement and balance, absorb repeated huge impacts and protect the rest of your skeleton from stress and damage.
Of course, with any structure, the more complex it is the more things that can potentially go wrong. Feet are no exception. Even those of us who go through life with no serious foot problems will occasionally get aches and pains that make us sigh with relief when we get to sit down and take some of the weight off. Anyone who runs or hikes will have experienced the joys of hot spots and blisters - they’re not exactly unknown to Christmas shoppers either, to be honest - and sprains, muscle tears and even fractures are common medical issues. Repeated abuse of the feet and ankles can lead to conditions like Achilles’ tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, and may even contribute to arthritis later in life. Even infections such as athlete’s foot can be a nuisance. These problems have a variety of causes, but unfortunately they all have one thing in common; they’re painful. Of course we’ve already established that our feet spend most of their time supporting us, so pain there is particularly inconvenient.
With so many issues potentially affecting the feet a whole industry has developed to treat and manage foot pain. There are many traditional remedies for various problems, ranging from the sensible to the bizarre. Blisters and hot spots, for example, are basically a result of friction between the foot and shoe, so heat is a factor in causing them; the traditional solution of bathing the feet in cold water can be very effective at reducing the discomfort and preventing hot spots from turning into blisters. On the other hand many natural medicine sites recommend tea tree oil as a treatment for athlete’s foot (in fact some of them seem to recommend it as a treatment for nearly everything) despite a complete lack of evidence that it works.
In fact, many foot problems can be avoided or managed by a few simple methods. Maintaining a good posture and gait reduces the stresses that lead to conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Properly fitting, supportive footwear helps the foot deal with the loads placed on it. Unfortunately, badly fitting footwear is more of the rule than an exception. That’s hard to avoid, of course. Footwear manufacturers can only make a limited number of sizes, so most of us end up with a compromise between what we need and what’s available. It’s worth making an effort, and even spending a bit more, to get a fit that’s as close to perfect as possible. In some cases the style of footwear can be as important as its fit, too. High heels, for example, are stylish and popular but force the feet into an unnatural posture that can lead to all sorts of problems.
If fit or style is likely to cause a problem, one excellent solution that’s often overlooked is the use of insoles. These can substantially improve fit as well as providing extra cushioning and support. Traditionally most people have used off the shelf insoles, with custom ones being an expensive option usually reserved for certain medical conditions, but technology has changed that; new online ordering options make perfectly fitted custom insoles as affordable as standard ones.