Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Foot Notes - 10 ways to care for your feet

Forget about  Atlas whining about having the weight of the world on his shoulders: your feet have it worse.  Every day they carry you some 10,000 steps (unless you're a couch potato) and bear several hundred tonnes of impact.  But when it comes to your health priorities, they're usually the furthest things from your mind - in every sense.  You take them for granted, that is until you develop a problem and then it's "Oh my Gosh, I can't walk anymore."  

Sounds dramatic doesn't it, but research shows that most people wait until they're in debilitating pain before they seek medical attention for foot problems.  Apparently 1 in 5 Aussies suffer foot pain but weirdly, nearly 85% of us have never seen a podiatrist.  I was one of the majority until about a month ago when I could bare the foot pain not longer. My feet, most particularly my toes on my left foot, throbbed when I walked let alone being able to meet the demands of my fitness program - the goal of running 10 km in 1 hour by the end of this year. Result - no exercise, lost motivation and back to square one.  

So, like a good self coach, to salvage my fitness regimen and motivation from being kicked out the door,  I decided it was time to take action and seek professional medical advice.  I also decided to find myself a mentor - a successful runner who could add  some exercise wisdom to the mix.  Remember a mentor does not  have to be someone you actually know personally - an author, authority on the subject in question etc will do just as well.

Like me you might not be aware what a masterpiece  this hardest working body part really is.  Did you know that the foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and 100+ tendons, muscles and ligaments?  In addition, research has linked stress on these complex instruments to malfunctions in the ankle, knee, hip joint and lower back.

Jenny Hadfieldco-author of “Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals.”  recommends the following tips on foot care

Develop your running like a fine wine.
Running or any exercise for that matter has a way of becoming addictive and the joy and excitement can quickly lead to doing to much too quickly leading to overload on the body causing aches and pains in your feet, knees, hips and lower  back.  Jenny suggests that as a general rule of thumb you should not increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. Keeping a log and tracking how your body feels can help you find the  right balance of running frequency, duration, intensity and recovery.
Invest in proper running shoes.

My old joggers – looked and smelt long past there use by date and were not providing any support for my poor tootsies. The general consensus is that runners should be replaced every 480-800 km.  Mine had certainly exceeded this mileage so I made a quick visit to my local sporting store  and had a trained professional help me find a pair of running shoes  that fit well and were appropriate for the various exercises I had in mind.  While it can be expensive to get a good pair of sports shoes I think it is a good investment in your overall health.
Podiatrist,Christine Dobrowolski, author of Those Aching Feet recommends that before walking a step, let alone a kilometer, in any shoes, put them through this test - grab one by the toe and heel, then try and twist it and fold it in half.  It should flex only in the toe area and where the feet actually bend.  Look for shoes with cushioning, arch support and a heel that won't collapse when  squeezed. While you're at it have your feet measured as weight fluctuations, age and pregnancy can cause your feet to change in shape.   In addition, as all makes and models of shoes vary, never assume you know your size until you've actually laced-up and taken them for a spin. Running shoes should feel snug but not too tight. A good fit should allow you a thumbs-width between the end of your big toe and the tip of the shoe. Use your own thumb, not the sales associate’s (or your brother who weighs 100 more pounds than you—and consequently has thumbs three times the size of your own). You want this to be a proportionate measure of your individual frame. While this may seem roomy initially, you’ll need this extra space as our feet expand and swell when we run due to increased circulation and body heat generation. This cushion, so-to-speak, is important for downhill running too as your feet will be pushed further down towards the front of the shoe which can cause discomfort and tingling if there’s not enough wiggle room, thus leaving your toes sore and tender
Examine your everyday footwear.
It’s possible for foot pain to be aggravated not by running but by lifestyle habits. I hate to say it, but wearing high heels is one of the worst things  for your feet as your weight is shifted forward putting excessive pressure on the forefoot and squeezing our little piggies into a space the size of a Doritos chip.  Not that I wear high heels very often as I tend to stick to flat shoes as often as possible. However, these so called comfy shoes, like ballet flats and thongs, can be almost as damaging.  Without support, your arches suffer extra strain, causing tiny tears in the tissue that over time can get so bad that you feel searing cramps with each step - a condition called plantar fasciitis.  (Another condition called tendonitis can also develop) Apparently, it's the number one reason women visit the podiatrist (Women's Health Magazine, Dec 2009). So try to balance wearing flats with some shoes that provide support. 

Get stronger.
For feet to stay healthy, they have to be strong. Performing exercises barefoot will ensure that every muscle and ligament in your lower body is in working order. To complement your running, weave in strength work two or three times  during the week. This can be in the form of yoga or body-weight movements. The key is to include exercises that improve mobility and balance to prevent the development of weak links in your body. A little bit of work goes a long way.  
My podiatrist suggested strengthening the muscles in the foot was a good idea. Toe curls are good, as are toe push-ups (barefoot push ups with your feet), and rolling your foot on golf ball and trying to pick up the ball by curling your toes around it also is a good for building stronger muscles in the foot. Other exercises include calf raises.
 Fix your form.
Increasing your cadence is one of the easiest ways to improve running form. Perform a quick inventory of how often your foot hits the ground (your cadence) by counting the number of strides on one foot for one minute. If you count fewer strides than 88, you’re not striding quickly enough.
A slow cadence likely means you are covering too much ground with every step, which increases the impact forces on your body. One fun way to increase cadence is to listen to a high-tempo song and to try to match the beat. Apps like Podrunner or Motion Traxx offer playlists at 180 beats per minute.
Toe the Line
If your are doing a lot of exercise, particularly walking, jogging or running your toenails can also take a pounding and become thick, yellow or black. They can even dig into the neighbouring toe and cause cuts and bleeding.  Keeping your toenails short not only keeps them from developing a nasty fungus beneath your nail beds, but will also lengthen the life of your socks. Toenails that are too long can often poke holes in your socks leaving those piggies uncovered and vulnerable to blisters and bruising. Too-long-toenails can also scratch surrounding toes and consequently, leaving you with bloody socks and risk of infection.  If you are prone to ingrown toenails, they should be cut round instead of short. 

Preventing Calluses and Blisters
The hardening of the skin around a runner`s feet is actually a protective mechanism. This is usually caused by friction over extended periods of time. You can prevent the skin from becoming too tough by using any of the foot graters and pumice stones on the market. This will also prevent calluses. Other actions you can take include  wearing good moisture wicking socks with few or no seams, when buying new shoes, ensure they fit properly (not too tight or too loose) and invest in a pumice stone or foot file and use it daily. 

As petty as they sound, blisters can be one of the most debilitating “injuries” to run through. If a blister becomes painful enough, it can cause you to subconsciously alter your stride, which can lead to imbalances and further injuries.  Treat blisters as they appear.

Keep Feet Smelling Sweet

Are you sweating up a storm in your sneakers?  Don't worry, we all are - each foot has more thatn 250,000 sweat glands and produces a cup of sweat every day!   Fortunately, there are a number of remedies to prevent runner`s foot odor. Consider daily feet soaks with any of the peppermint-based cleansing products. Some runners even like to put talcum powder or baking soda in their shoes before putting on their socks. After a hard days work, your tired toes will probably enjoy a nice cuppa as much as you do.  Brew up some black tea and soak you feet for 15 minutes. Tea's acid helps break down odour causing bacteria. Last but least, although it should go without saying, be sure to change your socks on a daily basis. Make sure your feet are clean and dry before putting socks on, as wet feet are the perfect breeding ground for infectious fungi, such as the fungus that causes “athlete’s foot.” If you do find signs of fungal infection (red or itchy or flaky skin, crustiness between toes, hard cracked skin at the heels), treat it promptly with an anti-fungal cream available at your local pharmacy.

Tying Your laces 
As I mentioned, your shoes should feel snug, not tight. One way to make sure you’re not tying your laces too tight is to first slip into your shoes and then make a “fist” with your toes, or simply curl your toes under your feet. Once your toes are scrunched up, then lace your shoes as your normally would. Once you've finished lacing them, simply release your toe fist. This will give your feet a cradled environment; yet allow enough mobility within the shoe to combat numbness and rubbing.

Sock it to Me!
When we run, our feet get hot. So, keep your peds cool by wearing socks that breathe. There are hundreds of socks on the market in a variety of fabrics. You want to look for lightweight, water-resistant materials that either breathe or wick away moisture in order to keep blisters from appearing and odors from being any more pronounced than they have to be!

Professional Advice
Podiatrists or Doctors of Pediatric Medicine (DPM) are physicians who specialize in the treatment of foot and ankle problems. Most podiatrists have spent at least three or four years studying the basic sciences in a university or college after graduating high school, then studied four more years at a school of pediatric medicine, and then most go on to do foot and ankle residencies for two to three additional years 

Podiatrists treat all problems related to the foot or ankle. The more common problems they see are heel pain, arch pain, ingrown toe nails, bunions (bumps on the inside of the big toe), hammertoes (bent toes), flat feet, foot or ankle arthritis, fungal toe nails, sores (ulcers), infections, sprains and fractures, ankle pain or weakness and nerve problems and neuropathy (numbness, burning, or tingling).

Some aches and pains in our feet or ankles may go away in a day in a two; others do not, and that is when you need to go to a podiatrist. Many people who see me for a painful foot or ankle have had pain for several days or weeks, but some have been limping around for several months or even over a year! Pain is the body's way of telling us something is wrong. Don't ignore it.  Seek professional help.

When I visited the podiatrist and explained my issue she took a film of my walking and running action and played it back to me.  It appears that I tend to push off from my toes on my left foot and that is what is causing the problem.  She recommended I, give running a miss for a time,  massage Voltrrian into my foot 4 times a day for a fortnight and do some foot exercises.  The exercise involved picking up a pen with my toes for 5 minutes once a day for a fortnight.  

Improving your foot health is vital. After all, they are our foundation. Investing just a little time in strength and flexibility exercises and adjusting your footwear and training routine are simple steps that can prevent pain and improve your running performance down the road.  I am certainly not taking my feet for granted any longer.  Here's to healthy pain free happy feet
Do you  have any footnotes to add? Perhaps a story to share or  tips on foot health.

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