Feet tend to be the forgotten limits of our bodies. We stand on them, expect them to carry us, neglect them and shove them into too-tight shoes. We take them for granted until something goes wrong.
Taking care of your feet doesn’t have to take long – and can pay dividends, in how they feel and look, and how well they do their job. The first thing to do is think about your footwear, something which particularly applies to women.
“Wearing high-heeled shoes for short periods – for nights out, for instance – doesn’t cause damage,” says Podiatrist Andrew Walsh of Kings Hall Podiatry (HCPC registered). “It’s when you wear them constantly that you can run into difficulties.
The Achilles tendon
“The main problem is the shortening of the Achilles tendon (the large tendon that runs from your heel bone to your calf muscles). If you change suddenly from high heels to flat shoes you can cause Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon). In severe cases you could rupture the tendon and might need surgery to repair the tear.
“If you’ve been wearing high heels for a long time, you can avoid this problem by gradually reducing the height of your heel to about half an inch.”
“Court shoes are a no-no,” says Andrew Walsh. “Because they’re slip-ons, they have to be quite tight to stay on your foot. And because the opening is quite big, there’s no support.
The ideal shoe
“The ideal shoe is a lace-up made of soft leather with a rounded front, and a cushioned insole. Trainers are OK, as long as they’re good ones.
“You have to look at your body holistically,” says Andrew Walsh. “The leg and the foot have an effect on each other. For instance, your calf muscle controls the up and down movement of your foot. If your calf muscle is tight, it reduces the foot’s range of movement.”
Tips to keep your feet in tip-top condition
- Stretching your calf muscle helps to stretch and lengthen your Achilles tendon and also helps to keep your foot supple and maintain a good range of movement in your feet.
- Stand facing a wall with one foot slightly forward, leaning against the wall. Bend the leg nearer the wall, and stretch the other leg out behind you, with the heel down. Then swap, and stretch the other leg. Do this gently, several times.
Simple foot care can make a difference
- Toe nails. Cut your toe nails straight across or gently follow the shape of the toe. Don’t cut down the sides because you can leave a spike of nail behind that can grow into the skin and cause an infection.
- Use foot cream.You can get dried-out, cracked skin around your heels from wearing open-backed sandals or flip-flops. “You can treat this with a urea-based cream or one with urea and lactic acid. They help to break the skin down and allow it to heal,” says Andrew Walsh.
When to seek expert help
For some problems you may need to see a podiatrist or chiropodist. Excessive pronation is a good example. Pronation is when we roll the front of our feet too far inwards when we walk or being “flat footed”. This can cause a condition called shin-splints in, the muscles in the front of our shins which work hard to correct our walking gait.
“With all excessive pronation problems, orthotics are the main treatment,” says Andrew Walsh. There are different types of orthotics. Cushioning orthotics take the pressure off the main weight-bearing areas. They help to prevent the build-up of hard skin and corns. Structural orthotics are designed to reduce the workload of the muscle groups connected to the foot, and so reduce pain. Talk to your podiatrist about the type of orthotic you need.
Diabetes and foot care
If you have diabetes, looking after your feet is particularly important. “When people have diabetes and their glucose levels aren’t controlled, the glucose can build up in their smaller blood vessels and nerve endings, particularly in their feet,” says Pav Kalsi, Clinical Advisor at Diabetes UK.
Poor blood supply can lead to a loss of feeling in your feet, which means you may not notice injuries. “This can lead to other problems, particularly ulcers, which can become infected.” This, in turn, could lead to amputation.
“We encourage people to look after their feet and to check them every day. If you have any concerns, such as loss of sensation, see your doctor. If you have diabetes, make sure that you have an annual foot check.”