Top 3 causes for foot pain
Our poor feet just can’t catch a break.
We’re on them all the time—walking, running or standing—and they take a beating. It’s no wonder that three out of four Americans experience significant foot pain in their lifetime, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.
The average person spends about four hours per day on his or her feet, accumulating 8,000 to 10,000 steps. Did you know that your foot is one of the most structurally complex parts of your body? It contains 33 joints, 106 ligaments, 26 bones and 20 muscles and tendons connecting from your muscles below the knee.
Our feet can set off a chain reaction that affects the kinetics of the rest of our bodies. Pain in the feet causes us to consciously or unconsciously compensate in their stance and posture. That can cause pain and injury in the ankles, knees, lower back and even the neck.
Here are the top three causes of foot pain that I see:
1. Ill-fitting shoes and high heels. The excessive heel elevation of women’s pumps concentrates pressure on the toes and the balls of the feet. You may be fashionable, but your feet are forced into unnatural positions and shapes.
For your feet’s sake, make the compromise and wear your heels as little as possible. And the shorter the heel you choose, the better.
2. Medical Conditions. Pregnancy and excessive weight gain can cause fluid build-up and swollen feet, placing extra pressure on the feet.
Diabetes can cause real pain and numbness in your feet, along with obesity that brings on Type 2 diabetes. The more weight you carry, the more pressure you put on your feet, leading to a breakdown of bones, joints and tendons.
3. High-impact exercise. I see plenty of weekend warriors who pound the pavement, the courts and the ball fields—and pound their feet into submission. Jogging or speed walking, especially for long periods of time, can also cause foot pain. There’s no reason to stop these healthy activities, but if your feet hurt, your body is telling you to seek help before more damage is done.
So what can you do?
One of the best things you can do to avoid foot pain and injury begins with investing in good shoes to protect your feet. Correct fit is the key. Wear socks you normally wear with shoes for dress, work or working out. Always stand and press your thumb to determine if you have a half-inch space between your big toe and the end of the shoe.
Here’s a trick: If possible, purchase shoes near the end of the day. Your feet will naturally swell after you’ve spent a day on them, so a late-afternoon purchase will ensure a proper fit.
One common misconception is that shoes should take time to “break in.” Wrong! Shoes should feel comfortable from day one.
Regardless of function, a thick, flexible sole is ideal, along with a shock-absorbing heel. The sole of the shoe should flex at the ball of the foot, not at the arch. And your arches do need support. Using flimsy beach flip-flops regularly on pavement is asking for foot problems.
Shoes for exercise and sports should focus on padding and ankle support. If you’re unsure about what types of shoes are best to consider, see a podiatrist, who can create customized orthotics—inserts for shoes designed especially for your feet and what you do on them. Inserts can significantly reduce fatigue in your feet, knees, and legs, even your lower back.
Foot pain isn’t natural or something you just have to “live with.” Nor should you ignore it. Your quality of life often starts at the ground level.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Kipferl is a board-certified podiatrist and a podiatric surgeon at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Foot Surgeons, and has been in practice for 27 years.