As an acupuncturist, I see a lot of feet over the course of a week. While lots of my patients have healthy, attractive feet, there are a number of people that I see who have tired, aching dogs. Anyone with sore feet will tell you that when your feet hurt, it’s hard to think about anything else.
One of the most common foot complaints that I see are from women who are suffering from bunions, which is a painful and unattractive misalignment of the first joint of your big toe. Rather than pointing straight forward, a bunion will make your big toe angle toward your smaller toes. Bunions can be a hereditary condition, but are ten times more common in women than in men. In addition, bunions are far less common in cultures where people go barefoot most of the time.
What these stats strongly suggest is that our choice of shoes is the villain in the bunion story. Feet that have been crammed into narrow-toed high heels are far more likely to develop bunions than those that have been sporting flats or sneakers. In addition, once your feet have been stuffed into high heels, your weight is pushed forward onto your toes, further aggravating the assault.
OK, high heels—bad. But there’s another story in damaging footwear that we don’t often hear about. It’s summertime here in Minnesota, time to let those puppies breathe in the open air. What’s easiest to put on—flip flops—are not always the healthiest choice. Flip flops don’t support the arches in your feet, and can be the cause of knee pain, plantar fasciitis, or just plain achy feet. The problem gets worse as you get older, because your arches tend to weaken as you age. In addition, if you’re overweight, you’re putting extra stress on your feet, especially the arches. So, flip flops—not so good, either.
It’s not too much to ask for shoes or sandals that look good, support your arches, and let your toes run free. There are all kinds of shoe companies that take the health and structure of your feet into account, while still being fashionable. You just have to look a little harder, ask a few questions from your shoe retailer, and buy shoes that feel good on your feet.
Here are a few things that can help prevent and relieve tired, swollen, and achy feet:
-Soak ‘em. Soak your feet at the end of the day, alternating between five minutes of cold water and five minutes of hot water, then repeat. By doing so, you are opening and closing the blood vessels in your feet, increasing the circulation, and reducing swelling.
-Massage those dogs. Put some moisturizing lotion on your feet and massage away. The lotion makes it easier to get into those sore spots and really work on those aches and pains. You could also find a partner who’s willing to massage your feet for you (or trade foot massages)
-Use the right shoes. If you walk or run for exercise, make sure you have the right shoes for your foot. If you walk, run, or otherwise spend a lot of time on your feet, you need the right shoes for the job. One of the easiest ways to know you’re getting the right shoes is to buy them at a reputable athletic shoe store with salespeople who are knowledgeable in your sport.
-Buy the right shape. This means buying shoes that fit the curve of the arch on the inside of your foot. Your arch may be curved, very curved, or straight. When you’re buying athletic shoes and the salesperson talks about a straight-lasted or a curve-lasted shoe, they are talking about the shape of the arch. In general, (but not always) the higher your arch, the more of a curve your foot will have, and the flatter your arch, the straighter your foot will be.
-Go easy with new shoes. This goes for the new flats you’re wearing to work as well as your new running shoes. Break in new shoes by wearing them for short periods before you put them on for a whole day (or a long run).
-Stretch your Achilles tendon to loosen up your calf muscles and reduce heel pain. The easiest way to stretch your Achilles tendon is to stand about three feet away from a wall. Place your hands on the wall, bring one foot forward and keep the back leg straight. Bend your elbows to stretch the back leg. Hold for thirty seconds, and then switch sides.
-Think about Chinese medicine. If you’re suffering from any kind of foot pain including plantar fasciitis, ankle pain, bunions, and just plain achy feet, acupuncture can help reduce the pain and promote healing. Give it a try!