Your feet have a big job to do. They bear all the weight and pressure of your body and carry
you through your day. A pair of feet has 52 bones—that’s a quarter of all the bones in your body. On top of all those bones are 33 joints and over a hundred ligaments, muscles, and tendons, so you can imagine that even the slightest misalignment in your feet messes up the alignment in the rest of your body.
Unfortunately, most people take their feet for granted. About 75 percent of Americans will experience some sort of foot condition at some point in their lives. Considering how much time you spend on your feet, any foot condition turns into a big pain that could become an even bigger problem if left untreated, and you have plenty of potential disorders to choose from. How do you avoid those problems? What can you do to ensure that your feet stay healthy and fit?
What you’ll learn in this article:
- How to choose the most supportive shoes
- How to exercise your feet
- How to eat for foot health
- Proper foot hygiene tips
- The right way to groom your toenails
- The importance of the right socks
- How to do DIY foot massageRead on for some helpful tips.
1. Wear the right shoes.
As soon as we evolved into upright beings, we needed something to cover our feet, but shoes are more than a fashion statement or a product of evolution. They give your feet the support you may lack naturally. They protect your feet from the elements and enable you to venture into difficult terrain. That’s why it’s important to wear comfortable, supportive shoes that cater to your foot type, like a pair of Rockports or Clarks (pictured above).
What’s Your Type?
No two people have the exact same foot type. There are a variety of ways to evaluate your foot type, but the simplest is to simply look at your footprint. If you have a flat foot, your print will look flat and wide. The higher your arch, the more your footprint looks like a comma. For extreme arches or flat feet, you should consult a podiatrist.
Don’t forget simple size and width either. Shoes that are too small will lead to blisters, calluses, bunions, and generally sore feet. Shoes that are too big are just a pain to walk in and can cause undue strain on your joints. Essentially, if the shoe feels comfortable and doesn’t slip off your foot with each step, you’ve found a winner.
What Not to Wear
Unfortunately, thanks to fashion trends, people have become a bit misguided about their footwear.
Two of the worst shoes to put your puppies in include:
- Super high heels: They may lengthen the look of your legs, but high heels are a foot’s worst nightmare. Sprained ankles aside, high heels force your feet into unnatural positions, putting much of your body’s weight on the balls of your feet, leading to joint pains, bad posture, and potential fractures. Wearing high heels regularly can lead to Haglund’s deformity, more commonly known as pump bump. This is a bony enlargement that forms on the back of your feet and is caused by the rigid backs of pumps. This can eventually lead to blisters, swelling, bursitis, and a permanent protrusion. Keep the heels low and covering plenty of surface area. Stilettos are a no-no.
- Pointy toes: A burgeoning style among celebrities and suits alike, pointy toes have a unique look but at the risk of bunching your toes together. Aside from being uncomfortable, cramming your toes together can lead to bunions, hammertoes, deformities, blisters, and bruises. Your toes weren’t meant to be pressure-packed together. A wide toe box is your friend.
2. Exercise your feet.
Your foot is filled with muscles, and just like the muscles in your arms or legs, they need exercise to stay properly conditioned. Imbalances in your foot’s musculature limit the motion of your feet, affecting your gait and posture.
Your foot has two types of muscles: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic muscles are contained entirely within your foot and move parts of your foot relative to its other joints. Extrinsic muscles, like your calves, connect your foot to your leg. Both types of muscles are important to the mechanics of your feet.
Some workouts you should consider:
- Foot circles: This is an easy exercise to help the strength and flexibility of your ankles. Simply imagine that there’s a pencil at the end of your foot and draw circles in the air by rolling your ankles. Do 20 circles clockwise, 20 counterclockwise, and then switch feet.
- Calf raises: Calf raises improve your balance and strengthen the muscles in your calves and feet. Balancing on one foot, rise onto your tippy-toes and hold for ten seconds before lowering back down. Repeat ten times with each foot and hold onto a counter, doorway, or wall for balance.
- Toe grip: Drop pebbles, a sock, or a towel on the floor and then use your toes to lift it off the floor. Hold the object off the floor for 10 seconds and then drop it. Repeat the exercise five times and then switch feet.The easiest foot workout is going for a walk. It seems counterintuitive as walking puts extra stress on your feet, but walking works out both intrinsic and extrinsic muscles while keeping your ligaments and tendons flexible. Just make sure you wear the right footwear. If you want to reduce the impact to your joints, walk on grass, dirt, or a track instead of on pavement.
3. Eat for Your Feet.
Eating healthily works in a variety of ways to help your feet. For one, weight. Your body weight may seem unrelated to your feet until you realize that your feet have the sole job of supporting all that weight. You don’t necessarily have to obese to feel the effects. Any significant weight gain means more pressure on your feet and ankles. Too much body weight can also lead to problems including flat feet, inflammation in your tendons, plantar fasciitis, osteoarthritis, and general soreness.
Being overweight or obese also makes you susceptible to certain conditions that could indirectly lead to foot problems, including:
- Diabetes: Diabetes can reduce the amount of blood flow to your feet. This can cause numbness, so you may get scratches on your feet without even noticing them. The lack of blood keeps these wounds from healing properly, leading to infection and the potential loss of your feet entirely.
• Gout: Gout is a condition wherein uric acid crystals develop in your joints, like the many in your feet and ankles, causing sharp, intense pains.
- Peripheral arterial disease: Characterized by the buildup of plaque in the arteries of your extremities—particularly your legs—reducing the blood flow to your feet.Make sure you maintain a healthy diet and avoid the usual culprits of bad health—trans fats, junk food, fried foods, added salt and sugar, and any foods that have been over-processed.
Some things you should include in your diet are vitamin D and calcium. Calcium is the stuff that builds strong bones, while vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. You should also consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Found commonly in fatty fish, omega-3s reduce inflammation, easing pain and soreness in your feet.
4. Focus on Foot Hygiene.
As the saying goes, cleanliness is close to godliness, but what do clean feet have to do with your health? Well, feet sweat. A lot. A pair of feet has, on average, 250,000 sweat glands, excreting as much as a pint of sweat in a day. That’s only exacerbated by the fact that your feet tend to be trapped in a pair of shoes for most of the day. All of that moisture is uncomfortable for you and for those who happen to catch a whiff of what’s brewing in your sneakers, but it’s a veritable playground for bacteria and fungi, especially between the toes. Leave those bacteria be and they’ll reproduce and populate your feet, leading to an even worse stink, infections, and skin problems. Yikes.
But there’s an easy solution: wash your feet every day. You don’t need to do anything special. Just make sure they get a good, soapy scrubbing, particularly between your toes. Use a pumice stone if you notice any especially scaly, calloused areas. Dry them thoroughly and use a moisturizer. That seems counter to what we said about sweat and moisture, but the wear and tear your feet deal with can lead to cracked, scaly, or dry skin, no matter how much you sweat.
5. Trim Your Nails the Right Way.
Not the prettiest item on the agenda, but trimming your toenails is as necessary for your health as it is your general comfort. You don’t want your talons poking through your socks or shoes. Long toenails also offer more hiding places for the bacteria mentioned above. It’s also much easier to break long toenails, turning a stubbed toe into a complete horror story.
But there’s more to cutting your toenails than you think. If you’re careless about it, trimming your nails could lead to ingrowths and serious infections.
• Cut the nails straight across. Avoid cutting your nails on a curve. Your clippers should just go straight across.
• Don’t cut them too short. Don’t overcompensate by cutting into the quick—the pink part of the nail. Aside from the upfront pain and potential bleeding, cutting too short can lead to ingrown nails and leave your toenails open to infections.
• Use the right clippers. Use the larger clipper meant for your toenails. Disinfect your clippers before and after you use them.
• Trim when dry. Your toenails are softer and easier to cut when wet, but they’re also more susceptible to bending and tearing.
If you naturally have ingrown toenails or thicker-than-average nails, consult your doctor.
6. Wear the Right Socks.
They keep your feet cozy and protect your feet from everyday wear and tear, but most importantly, socks control the moisture levels of your feet by absorbing and wicking away sweat. During World War II, a pair of fresh, dry socks kept soldiers from developing the dreaded trench foot.
You’ll find a variety of socks made of various materials, but for everyday use, stick with wool, cotton, and other natural fibers. For workouts and runs, socks made from synthetic materials (like acrylic, olefin, or polyester) are much better at wicking away sweat.
7. Treat Yourself to a DIY Foot Massage.
Sit back, relax, and give your feet a nice massage. Foot massage has all kinds of benefits other than tranquility and stress relief. Working the muscles and joints in the feet improves circulation and enhances your immune system. Some foot massage techniques to try:
- Toe stretches: Holding your heel in one hand, use your other hand to stretch each toe forward and backward. Hold each stretch for a few seconds.
- Thumb press: Press your thumbs into the sole of your foot, moving in firm circles. Repeat on the top of your foot.
- Deep massage: Grip one of your feet in your hands, thumb on top, fingers on your sole. Work each bone simultaneously with your thumb, fingers, and the heel of your hand.
- Massage can be as easy as throwing a golf ball into the freezer. Take out the ball and roll it under each foot. The cold and the ball’s dimpled texture effectively work into your foot muscles and pressure points for a pleasant, relaxing sensation.
Your feet are criminally underappreciated for all that they do for you. They’re a barometer for your general health, and they give you the ability to stand, walk, and run to your heart’s content. Keep your feet healthy and you’ll have no trouble putting your best foot forward!
- “foot6” by liverpoolhls is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Clarks Wave Trek from http://www.walkingonacloud.ca
- “Feet” by Quasic is licensed under CC BY 2.0