Feet are the platform for all mobility, without healthy feet, life can be very challenging. Feet absorb a lot of use and abuse and in fact 50% of all sports injuries occur below the knee. A sedentary person takes 2000 steps a day, an active person takes 10,000 steps a day.
When you think about how that’s all your body weight on your foot thousands of times a day, it's no wonder foot health is so important for overall well being. Eastern healers believe that each part of the foot is directly linked to another part of the body like internal organs and connective tissues. This is the basis for disciplines like reflexology and acupuncture. In Physical therapy we recognize the connection between the feet and other parts of the body because we see that foot problems, when not addressed, soon become knee, hip and back problems. It's very common to have a patient come in with knee pain and all we have to do is change their footwear to something that aligns and supports their foot correctly and in a couple of weeks the knee pain is gone. Here are some things to think about if you want to improve or maintain your foot ankle health:
Five things you can do to improve foot and ankle health.
Wear good shoes: Proper footwear is essential to foot and ankle health. Many people wear shoes because they look good and not because they fit well. During normal walking with good shoes, the repetitive stresses and strains of each step are evenly distributed and absorbed by the structures and mechanisms of the foot and ankle. Poorly fitting or restrictive shoes change to natural movement of the foot and ankle, transferring stress to parts of the foot that are not designed to absorb that much force. Over time this can lead to painful conditions and deformities that require medication, shots or surgery.
Walk regularly: Feet and ankles are made up of joints, tendons and muscles. All these structures become stronger when exercised regularly. Walking is the best and most natural way to exercise your feet and ankles. If you don’t routinely walk for your job or other daily obligations, schedule some time to walk a mile or two daily. Mornings and lunch times are a good time to do this. Keep yourself accountable by walking with a friend, keeping a log, or using a fitbit or other fitness tracker to motivate you.
Keep your weight down: Weight tends to creep up on us as we age so it's sometimes hard to appreciate just how much of an effect it is having on our health. One exercise I would like you to try, is to take a gallon of milk out of the fridge and walk around with it in your hand for one minute. That aching in your hand and shoulder is what extra body weight does to your joints and muscles. The next thing to think about is that a gallon of milk only weighs 8 pounds! Imagine how much better your feet will feel if you lose 20 pounds?
Stretch out your calves: Tightness in the muscles of the calf is extremely common and is a factor in many foot problems like plantar fasciitis, bunions and neuromas. Having tight calf muscles transfers stress to the front of the foot causing undue pressure on the structures in that area. Important to note is that the muscles of the calf are extremely strong and stretching them effectively requires a specific stretching routine that involves using your body weight to get an effective stretch.
Take care of injuries: Small injuries quickly become big problems where the foot is concerned. A good example is the number one injury we see in PT: the inversion sprain. This is where you suddenly “roll your ankle” causing pain, swelling and bruising on the outside of the joint. This is caused by tearing of the ligaments that stabilize the joint on that side. In severe cases, a sprain like this can cause the ligament to pull a small chunk of bone away from its attachment causing even more bleeding and bruising. Another thing that happens in this type of injury is tearing of the nerve endings in the ligament. This leads to a loss of proprioception or your brain's ability to sense the position of the joint as you move. This can lead to more sprains in the future if not addressed by rehabilitation programs that take proprioception into account.
These five areas touch on a few of the options you have to improve your foot and ankle health. There are however many more things you can do so if you have tried a few of these things and are not getting the results you want or perhaps you have a more complicated situation and have additional questions, a visit to PT for some expert advice is a good place to start. If you need more help, reach out to my team at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will have one of our experts help you.
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