Feet Don’t Fail Me

Haven’t we all said that at one time or another?

The foot is a marvelously complex body part with 26 bones forming three arches, along with muscles, tendons and ligaments that support and control movement.

Feet bear all our body weight and are a lever system that moves us forward. So, it is no wonder these tootsies can get “tender” at times.

Every pair of feet is unique in its own right, and the way they carry us around in this world is also unique. The need to care for them seems to be a no-brainer, but sometimes we forget.

Feet need exercise, and feet need rest. They also need protection against the elements: from harsh surfaces that can break the skin, from climate (too hot or cold) and from external forces that can rub, blister and bruise them.

It is also important to know that some feet need more care than others. Diabetes is becoming more prevalent in our society, so are the foot conditions related to this disease.

With diabetes, the blood flow and nerve supply to the feet can be reduced, making the foot more susceptible to the outside forces that can cause damage. Healing in diabetes takes longer, so a small bump or cut can become a big issue for someone with diabetes.

Shoes are the major source of protection and support for our unique feet. People with diabetes who have a higher risk of injury may need to have their shoes made to meet their specific needs.

This is also true for those people with major changes in the foot, due to joint diseases such as arthritis. Custom-made shoes and orthotics can be a good solution for these people.

For the “average Joe”, finding the right shoe is also important, especially for specialized activities that we may partake in, such as tennis, basketball, jogging and so on.

The market is saturated with many shoe types; we need to be familiar with our own feet so we know what we need in a shoe. This helps get the best shoe fit and performance.

Take a running shoe for example. They vary greatly in the amount of flexibility in the sole, the height of the arch support and the support and angle of the heel cup in relation to the sole.

Interestingly, there is a resurgence of people who choose to run without shoes, or with rubberized “toe shoes” (Vibram Five Fingers, for example), or runners with enhanced flexibility (Nike Freerunners are an example).

The theory behind running without shoes, or with only surface supports, is that this allows the foot and lower leg to do what it was intended to do. Proponents of barefoot running suggest that shoes limit the foot’s normal movement.

The other reason that people such as Australian physical therapist Michael Warburton recommend barefoot running, is that when you run without shoes, you tend to run on your mid and forefoot, eliminating the heel strike that occurs in runners.

Heel strike increases the force that moves up the body on each step you take and causes pain and overuse injuries.

As a recreational runner, I am experimenting with doing some runs with the rubberized barefoot simulators. My usual left knee discomfort is not there when I run in the barefoot simulators, though I do feel more muscle fatigue in the small muscles of my feet.

Also I have to be careful where I place my feet on the trails, as roots can really hurt!

The jury is still out on what is the best option for runners, as more research is in the works.

When considering what works best for our feet during work, rest and play, it is important to remember that we are all individuals.

If you are having trouble with your feet, take time to discuss this with a health care professional, to rule out alignment issues and conditions such as diabetes or arthritis.

Physiotherapists have specialized skills in the area of assessing musculoskeletal disorders of the feet, and can be a good resource for people experiencing foot issues.

Above all, keep those feet healthy and happy!

This article is provided by Liris Smith, a member of the Yukon Council of Physiotherapists. For more information on physiotherapy in Yukon and Canada, check out www.yukonphysiotherapy.org or www.physiotherapy.ca

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