No Tiptoeing Around Foot Health
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Local Podiatrists Weigh In
By Patrice Doucet
Leonardo da Vinci famously said, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” He might not see the beauty in today’s feet after they’ve been through years of abuse - standing for lengthy periods of time, walking, jumping and running on them, hitting them with soccer balls, dropping objects on them, stubbing them and wedging them into shoes that are too tight. Foot pain is our body’s way of letting us know that something is wrong, and it’s time we listen.
The American Pediatric Medical Association (APMA) says 75 percent of Americans will experience foot problems at one time or another in their lives.
Podiatrist Dr. Amy Schunemeyer, DPM, in New Iberia, treats an array of foot problems and injuries in patients of all ages, although much of her patient base is 55-70 years old. She treats many of the same problems daily, including ingrown toenails, toenail fungus, bunions and, more recently, a growing number of patients with gout. Neuropathy is another foot ailment that brings many to her office. “It’s a paradox of a disease, where you can either lose feeling in your feet or it could be very painful,” Schunemeyer explains.
Insult to Injury
As long as there are sports to be played, there will be sprains and stress fractures. Maybe most helpful to know about a fracture is that it is usually not discovered in traditional x-rays and that podiatrists are one of few, if not the only, physicians who take x-rays while the patient is standing, for a more accurate assessment of the injury.
Time Heels all Wounds
Adding to this list of common foot conditions, another New Iberia podiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Purdy, DPM, says he treats a great deal of heel pain. While there are a number of reasons why a person might suffer from heel pain, it is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis. This is an inflammation in the ligament that supports the arch and becomes inflamed where it attaches to the heel bone due to overuse or small tears in the fascia. “People will try over the counter inserts which are usually inadequate, or take long term anti-inflammatories that don’t solve the issue,” he cautions.
If the Shoe Fits
According to renowned anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, most of our foot problems began some 40,000 years ago when humans starting wearing shoes. An examination of excavated toe bones from that time, compared to more modern samples, show that the bones in our toes became weaker and thinner as we wore shoes. That’s because wearing shoes changes how our feet were meant to walk, limiting the traction role of our toes, and how weight is distributed across the bottom of our feet. Shoes can also change the shape and structure of our feet. Just ask any woman.
Women have about four times as many foot problems as men, according to the APMA and, you guessed it, high heels are partly to blame. “The problem is that today’s shoes are made to please our eyes more than our feet,” says Dr. Schunemeyer. “If you want a dressy shoe, choose a platform with a ½” to 1” platform in the front and another 1 to 1 ½ inches in the back of the shoe.”
Flip Flop Weather
Going into the warmer season, both men and women should keep in mind that wintertime shoes normally have more cushion and support than the summer staple Crocs, flip flops and flat sandals– all of which Dr. Schunemeyer says are bad for your feet if worn regularly and for extended periods. “When the heel height is the same as the front of the foot, meaning flat, it causes all sorts of problems, putting undo strain on the Achilles tendon and puts extra force on the front of the foot. Because they don’t have any arch support, they allow the foot to roll inward beyond the normal range of motion. A built-in arch and cushion is preferred– especially for anyone who is overweight.”
Overall Health Indicator
While improper shoes can certainly further foot problems, they don’t always create them. Complications of diabetes include poor circulation and nerve damage that can lead to serious skin ulcers, which left untreated oftentimes requires amputation of the foot or toes. The American Diabetes Association says that of the over 520,000 people in Louisiana with diabetes, an estimated 124,000 don’t even know they have the disease.
Observation is the key to foot health, as foot ailments can be the first sign of medical problems other than diabetes. Foot cramps are a prime indication of dehydration; if fluid intake is not the problem, oftentimes Charley horses also indicate a potassium deficiency. Hypothyroidism, a slow thyroid, often starts with chronic cold feet. Dr. Purdy says circulatory issues are often detected first in the feet because they are furthest from the heart and have the weakest circulation in the body. Like many podiatrists, he recommends his patients inspect their feet routinely at bedtime, particularly diabetics and those who have lost sensation in their feet due to nerve damage.
Keep Feet High and Dry
Prevention also goes a long way toward reducing foot problems. Fungus lives in dark, moist warm environments, making the feet a prime host. The APMA recommends that feet be washed regularly, especially right after exercise, and thoroughly dried, working the towel in between each toe. Wear flip flops in pubic showers. Athletes, especially runners, should dry out shoes between uses and replace them every 400-600 miles, according to running experts. Toenails should be trimmed straight, not rounded. If you have smelly or blistery feet or a history of foot fungus, wear socks that wick moisture away. Make sure your pedicurist sterilizes the instruments in an autoclave, not a solution.
Stretch it Out
Dr. Purdy adds, “I cannot stress enough the importance of stretching before, during and after exercise, and certainly after any long period of rest, like when you first get out of bed in the morning. The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the body and most subject to injury in the normal foot. Walking is the best exercise for your feet because it contributes to your general health by improving circulation and weight control.”
Other exercises recommended by podiatrists include pointing your toes, rotating the feet from left to right, and stretching the foot up, down and laterally, holding each pose for a few seconds.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t think to take preventive measures for foot health until our feet fail us. Think about this amazing fact from the APMA: each time you take a step lifting your heel off the ground, it forces your toes to carry one half of your body weight. Da Vinci was right, our feet are amazing. We need to show more appreciation than a pedicure or kicking them up on the recliner if we want them to continue carrying us through our lifetimes.