Our top tips for foot pain
Around 40% of Australians will experience some form of foot problem in their lifetime – pain, bunions, corns, plantar fasciitis, flat feet or high arches to name a few. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are among that percentage and could possibly benefit from the following four easy tips, and how acupuncture may help you with pain relief.
1. Get a grip
Few people understand the importance of grip when walking and running and how lack of it can lead to chronic problems in the feet and ankles. The natural print on the sole of the foot provides excellent grip, but unfortunately, in modern society, walking around barefoot is generally neither safe nor comfortable.
As a substitute for barefoot walking, the soles of shoes need to mimic the function of our natural soles, and create friction on slippery or unstable surfaces. A good pair of shoes will have a dense gripping rubber which ‘sticks’ to tiles and polished boards whilst a poor sole will not (I’m looking at those cheap ballet flats).
The importance of grip is paramount when ensuring smooth physical movement. If you are slipping, your toes will naturally clench in a desperate attempt to prevent you from falling, which in turn will create tightness in the muscles of the legs, hips and shoulders. Walking like this for even a short time is physically exhausting and will generally lead to muscle and joint pain.
Try this out for yourself. Practice walking around on a slippery surface without gripping soles, taking notice of the difference. Do you feel relaxed and in control of your movements? Can you feel yourself clenching your leg muscles to stay in control, and how are the shoulders feeling?
2. Socks matter
Just as important as grip, your choice of sock will have a huge impact on movement and comfort. Socks are important for two reasons – they provide the traction between you and the shoe, and they regulate sweat secretion, bacterial growth and smell!
Generally, you should stay away from synthetic fibers; they often do not breathe well or absorb excess sweat. Pure cotton and wool tend to be the best and longest lasting, therefore, the best value.
If you wear a slippery synthetic sock, you will lose grip between you and the shoe leading to tension in the muscles in the foot and leg. This rule applies to socks, sockettes, and yes, even stockings! As women will need to wear stockings and heels on occasion, try using a rubber sole insert to compensate. Going sockless is always an option and is best done in leather shoes to avoid sweating and bacterial build up.
3. Dress for your shape
Never ever squeeze your feet into shoes that do not fit. I cannot emphasize enough how amazingly bad this is for the feet. It compresses the bones forming painful bunions and deformity (the manky toe?). It compresses nerves and vessels leading to constant shooting pains and numbness. It reduces the flexibility of the feet which in turn will adversely affect the smooth movement and lead to chronic pain elsewhere in the body. It is just very bad … trust me. The worst offenders are pointy-toed shoes, very high heels and wearing a size too small.
How do you know if your shoe fits? Here are some handy tips:
The size of your feet changes as you grow older so always have your feet measured before buying shoes. The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest.
Most of us have one foot that is larger than the other, so fit your shoe to your larger foot.
Select a shoe that is shaped like your foot, not how you would like your foot to look.
During the fitting process, make sure there is enough space (around 1.5cm) for your longest toe at the end of each shoe when you are standing up.
Don’t select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe but by how the shoe fits your foot.
Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
Don’t buy shoes that feel too tight and expect them to stretch to fit.
Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slipping – the shoes should not ride up and down on your heel when you walk.
Walk in the shoes to make sure they fit and feel right. Then take them home and spend some time walking on carpet to make sure the fit is a good one.2
4. Health and wellness for the feet
Most of us understand that in order to stay fit and healthy, we need to exercise our joints and muscles. This same rule applies to the feet. When encased in shoes day after day, our feet will rarely move through their full range of motion. ‘Splinting’ or immobilizing the feet in this way will often lead to stiffness, pain, and weakness of muscles. This problem is particularly prevalent in the elderly.
A great way to keep the feet and ankles healthy is to practice balance and strengthening exercises. This can be as simple as standing on one foot and swinging the other around wildly, throwing yourself off balance (but without falling). This exercise really works the small muscles of the foot and encourages the central nervous system to improve balance control.
Some of us have had foot problems for many years yet are unaware they can be helped with therapies other than podiatry. Podiatry offers a useful service for those with severe foot problems, yet can actually be damaging to feet in the long run. Always be cautious when using podiatry; orthotic shoe inserts can restrict movement and cause muscle weakness.
Fascia release, stretching, acupuncture, and massage are all valuable treatment alternatives. Fascia release and massage can improve mobility and blood flow of the muscles and tendons in the foot. Acupuncture can address pain and stimulate the nervous system, and stretching can decrease tension in the feet and legs.
Solutions for foot pain
If you are experiencing problems such as pain, unsightly bunions, plantar fasciitis or instability on your feet, an approach with alternative treatments could be for you. Additional benefits to addressing foot problems can be an improvement in knee, hip, back and neck issues that are associated with poor walking posture.
An easy, relaxing and effective exercise for the feet is using a technique called somatics, which can be found here. This is exercise used for plantar fasciitis yet is also a great exercise for general foot stiffness and pain. You can do this exercise at home whilst relaxing on the couch … it feels great!
I hope these tips have got you thinking about the health of your feet and the impact they have on your life. The average person will walk around 128,000kms in a lifetime. That’s more than three times around the earth, and our feet are responsible for this whole journey. According to an old Irish proverb, “Your feet will take you to where your heart is.” I think it is only right to then, to care for your feet with all your heart.
Sheena Vaughan studied Chinese medicine and massage in Australia and has been practicing in Melbourne since 2006 at her primary practice, Qi Medicine. Sheena had developed a special interest in treating muscle and joint problems by combining her knowledge of acupuncture and massage with specialised techniques such as fascia release and muscle energy technique.