If corns, calluses, cracked heels and fallen arches make you want to bury your feet in the sand, join the crowd. Four out of five Canadians suffer from some kind of foot ailment. No surprise, given that our hardworking dogs take an average of 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day, which adds up to more than 185,000 kilometres over a lifetime. Despite all that wear and tear, we tend to take our feet for granted, says Joseph Stern, a Vancouver podiatrist and president of the Canadian Podiatric Medical Association. They're one of the most used, abused and woefully neglected parts of our bodies. With sandal season fast approaching, it's time to give those tootsies some serious TLC.
Save the stilettos for special occasions
Sure they look sexy, but high heels are one of the main reasons women have four times as many foot problems as men. "The higher the heels, the more weight is thrown onto the balls of your feet and the harder your body has to work at keeping you upright," says Annette Bourdon, a chiropractor in Montreal. Squishing your tender tootsies into tight, narrow shoes can lead to some very unattractive foot problems, including corns and calluses, claw-like hammertoes and bony bunions. As if that's not painful enough, those strappy stilettos may also contribute to knee and back problems and tight calf muscles – ouch!
Still, many of us aren't ready to lose the leggy look of Louboutins altogether. Here's how to strut your stuff as painlessly as possible.
• Lowering your heel height by even an inch makes a big difference, says Bourdon. "Watch what they wear on the dance shows on television," she advises. "Footwear is no more than 2-1/2 to 3 inches in height and offers good support at the ankle."
Page 1 of 5 – Find 4 more tips for staying comfy in high heels, plus find out if you need to visit a pro for a pedicure on page 2.
• Pack a pair of emergency flats to wear at your desk or anytime you can't bear to take another step in your heels.
• Most high heels are poorly cushioned, so consider adding ultra-slim insoles designed to fit without crowding toes or making shoes feel tight.
• Avoid standing or walking in heels over two inches high for more than four hours straight. Slip heels off whenever you can, wiggle your toes and loosen those tensed-up foot muscles (see "3 feel-good foot stretches," page 5).
Give your pedi a makeover
It takes more than a pretty polish to get feet summer-ready. Prepare those puppies at home with this quick and easy medi-pedi.
Soak: Treat feet to a warm 10-minute footbath. Add Epsom salts for added relaxation, or mix in a product such as Johnson's Foot Soap to soften corns and calluses or Pedifix Tea Tree Ultimates Soaking Crystals to fight fungus and bacteria.
Exfoliate: Slough off any thickened dead skin buildup (known as calluses) around heels, balls and sides of feet with a pumice stone or foot file. If you have badly cracked heels or pesky corns (those thick bumps of skin most often found on the toe), have a foot-care expert shave them down using a scalpel, advises Stern. Don't attempt to treat corns or calluses yourself by trimming, shaving or using over-the-counter medications.
Trim: Use a toenail clipper to trim nails straight across so they're about even with the tops of your toes. To prevent painful ingrown toenails, avoid rounding the edges.
Moisturize: Since feet have fewer oil glands than the rest of the body, they can end up parched and cracked. Lock in moisture with a urea-based foot cream. Wipe away any moisturizer between toes – a prime breeding ground for icky fungal infections.
Polish: For a perfect polish, use the three-stroke method, suggests Anh Nguyen, owner of Cranberry Flirt, an express nails and blow-dry bar in Toronto. Place the brush in the middle of your nail at the cuticle line and pull it upward toward the tip. Repeat on the sides. Regularly remove the polish to let nails breathe and prevent discoloration.
Page 2 of 5 – Do your feet aches after mere minutes of wearing heels? Find out if your genetics could be the culprit on page 3.
Get familiar with your family's feet
Many of us are genetically predisposed to a number of pesky foot conditions, including ingrown toenails, fungal nails, hammertoes and bunions. "That's also why some people can wear five-inch heels nine hours a day for years and never get a bunion, while others aren't so lucky," says Lloyd Traiforos, a chiropodist and foot specialist at Roncesvalles Family Foot Care Clinic in Toronto.
The good news? By keeping an eye out for the foot problems that plagued your parents, you can nip potential problems in the bud. If you have a family history of hammertoes, for example, it's probably not a good idea to dance the night away in stilettos. Buy roomier shoes that won't make your toes bunch up (check that there's a thumb's width space between the front of the shoe and your longest toe) and wear open-toed sandals whenever possible. You might also want to consider orthotics (see "Opt for orthotics," on the next page). If foot fungus is in your family tree, avoid sharing flip-flops or other footwear and monitor your feet for telltale signs (see "Listen to what your feet are telling you," page 5).
If the shoe fits, buy it
One of the biggest foot faux pas we make is wearing shoes that don't fit properly, says Traiforos. Feet continue to grow and spread throughout adulthood, especially after pregnancy and any significant weight gain. As we get older, the arch tends to drop a little and feet flatten out and get larger. Chronic foot pain is often a sign that you need to rethink your footwear. The same goes for blisters, calluses, corns, bunions and plantar fasciitis (inflammation in the connective tissue, or plantar fascia, that runs along the bottom of your foot). While properly fitting shoes can prevent or alleviate most foot pain, worn out, poorly fitting shoes can magnify problems. Here's how to make sure the shoe fits.
DO buy shoes at the end of the day when feet are at their largest. They tend to swell after a day of walking, sitting and standing.
DON'T buy shoes that pinch or otherwise rub you the wrong way. While they may soften or loosen a bit with wear, if they're not comfortable in the store, they never will be.
DO buy for the larger foot. Yep, one of your feet is usually bigger than the other.
DON'T sit down when having your feet measured. Feet actually expand when bearing your full weight.
DO discard well-worn footwear that no longer feels cushioned and supportive. "People are wearing their shoes a lot longer than they should be because they've paid $150 for them," says podiatrist Stern. Experts recommend ditching athletic shoes every six months if they're used on a daily basis.
Page 3 of 5 – Are you a flip-flop aficionado? Find out why your flip-flops could be harming your feet on page 4.
Avoid a flip-flop fiasco
Flat-soled flip-flops may be a summer wardrobe staple, but they're not meant to be worn as everyday shoes, says Stern. "Sure, there are people who can wear them all the time without problems, just like there are people who can run the Boston Marathon in high-heeled shoes, but that's not the norm." They provide no arch support, which can lead to tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, and if you wear them playing Frisbee, you may end up with a twisted ankle or broken toe.
The one place you do want to flaunt your flip-flops is in the locker room, where they're your first line of defence against foot fungus and athlete's foot. The bottom line? Have a pair or two on hand for casual jaunts and trips to the pool or beach, but for longer strolls, invest in a good-quality sandal that combines good arch support with a flexible sole and a strap in the back that holds your foot in place.
Stamp out foot odour
Considering there are more than 250,000 sweat glands in your feet – enough to produce a half a pint of moisture every day – it's no wonder they can smell, well... smelly on warm summer days. To keep odour under control, lightly dust feet with a cornstarch-based talcum powder or a medicated antifungal powder before slipping on sandals. If you must wear socks in summer, change them at least once a day, and don't forget to wash your feet, says Stern. Sounds obvious, but just standing in the shower doesn't do the trick: You need to exfoliate the entire surface of your foot with a washcloth or brush to get rid of any bacteria and dead skin cells. And don't forget to scrub between your toes!
Opt for orthotics
Does one side of your shoes wear out faster than the other? Do you suffer from chronic knee, heel and lower-back pain? Are you frequently spraining your ankle? If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be a candidate for orthotics – what Stern calls "eyeglasses for the feet." Custom-made by trained professionals, these shoe inserts offer support from heel to toe and can help prevent and treat a variety of foot and body-alignment problems. "Our entire body is supported by the ankles and feet," says chiropractor Bourdon. "When they're not bearing our weight evenly, it puts undue strain on the ankle and lower back, which can cause pain and discomfort throughout the body." While you can buy a number of over-the-counter arch and foot supports in drugstores, they won't do the trick for chronic foot pain. Make sure you get orthotics prescribed and fit by a qualified foot specialist such as a podiatrist, chiropodist or chiropractor, says Stern.
Bare your soles
Go ahead and free up your tootsies at the beach or backyard. So long as you're not experiencing any foot pain, and you limit shoeless strolls to soft surfaces for short periods of time, going barefoot has chiropodist Traiforos's blessing. "We're inside shoes and socks for most of the year so it's good to let our feet breathe a little," he says. Just keep in mind that too much padding around sans shoes can increase your risk of developing calluses and being exposed to plantar warts and athlete's foot. Stubbing an unshod toe can also lead to an ugly fungal nail infection that's hard to get rid of; and heel spurs – a bony overgrowth on the heel bone that causes pain in the bottom of the foot and arch – can be exacerbated by walking around barefoot.
Page 4 of 5 – Do you have sore feet? We've got three feel-good stretches from foot-care experts on page 5.
Listen to what your feet are telling you
Keep an eye out for any changes in the colour or temperature of your feet, which could indicate a serious health problem such as diabetes. Look for thick or discoloured nails (a sign of foot fungus) and check for any cracks or cuts in the skin of the feet. "Never ignore foot pain," says Stern. "Yes, your feet will be a little tired after a long hike, but generally you should not have foot pain." If the pain persists for more than three or four weeks and doesn't respond to any self-help measures (over-the-counter heel cups or arch supports, for example), see a podiatrist, chiropodist or other foot-care specialist. Chiropractors are also trained to address misalignments of the joints of the ankles and feet, and can give advice on strengthening and stretching exercises (see "3 feel-good foot stretches," below), proper footwear and orthotics, says Bourdon.
Sidestep a sunburn
It's easy to forget that feet are exposed to UV rays, too! After you've slathered sunscreen on the rest of your body, take a moment to cover the tops and bottoms of your feet, especially if you're prone to burning. Reapply after a dip in the pool or if your feet are sweaty, using a waterproof sunscreen that's SPF 15 or higher.
3 feel-good foot stretches
Fight foot pain and keep limber with these quick-and- easy stretches from our foot-care experts.
Toe writing: Sitting comfortably with both feet flat on the floor, shoes off and knees bent, use the pointed toes of one foot to "write" the letters of the alphabet on the floor from A to Z. Switch to the other foot. This is a great tension-reliever for tired feet and ankles, and can help promote circulation.
Calf stretch: If you wear high heels frequently, make sure you stretch your calves so your Achilles tendons don't shorten over time. "When that happens, wearing flats can become painful," says Traiforos. Stand facing a wall, with arms fully extended so that both hands are flat against the wall at eye level. Leaning against the wall for support, take one step back with your left leg. Keeping the back of your left heel on the floor, bend your right knee until you feel a stretch in your left calf muscle. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
The grip: To help relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis, sit with shoes off and scrunch up your toes like you're picking up marbles. Hold for five seconds and repeat several times. Alternatively, scrunch up your toes and try to pull a towel toward you with your foot. For an added challenge, place a book on the towel to increase resistance.
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