Help for Aching Feet
“MY FEET are killing me!” Obviously, that is an overstatement. Nevertheless, the problem of aching feet is serious enough in the United States to keep thousands of foot specialists in business.
After reviewing more than 2,000 foot operations he performed over a 14-year period, Dr. Michael Coughlin, an orthopedic surgeon, made a startling discovery. “Incredibly,” he says, “I found that nearly all these operations were on women.” Why are women especially prone to foot problems?
Fit, Fashion, and Feet
A survey of 356 women found that almost 9 out of 10 wore shoes that were, on the average, more than a full size too narrow for their feet! Part of the problem lies in the way women’s shoes are made. “Shoemakers no longer use the split lasts that could make a narrow heel and a wider forefoot,” explains orthopedic surgeon Francesca Thompson.*
Thus, when trying on shoes, many women find that when the front fits comfortably, the heel is loose; but when the heel is comfortable, the front is tight. Others opt for a comfortable heel with a tight front, as the alternative could mean slipping out of the heel with each step.
Squeezing the front part of the foot into a narrow toe box seems bad enough. But then designers raise the shoe’s heel a few inches. Though considered fashionable, a high heel puts all the pressure on the ball of the foot, and it forces the foot forward into a toe box that may already be too narrow. “There’s no such thing as a healthy, high-heeled shoe,” claims Dr. David Garrett, a podiatrist. Some say that high heels can eventually damage the wearer’s feet, ankles, calves, knees, and back. They can also shorten leg muscles and tendons, which can make runners particularly susceptible to serious injuries.
A woman’s foot does not adapt well to the abuse it suffers. In fact, over the years the front of the foot only tends to widen—even after a person reaches adulthood. But not so with the heel. “The heel has only one bone,” says Dr. Thompson, “and that stays as narrow at age 84 as it was at 14.” This makes it even more difficult for a woman to find a shoe that fits comfortably from heel to toe.
With the fit and fashion of their shoes working against them, how can women prevent aching feet? The answer begins in the shoe store. Some experts recommend the following:
● Shop for shoes toward the end of the day, when your feet are slightly larger.
● Try on both shoes—not just one.
● Make sure that the heel is snug and that the length, width, and height of the toe box is sufficient.
● Consider that the store may have a heavily padded carpet, making even ill-fitting shoes feel momentarily comfortable.
● Avoid shoes made of patent leather or synthetic materials. Unlike soft leather or suede, such materials do not give as you walk.
● If you buy shoes with high heels, try leather insoles for further padding. Consider wearing heels only part of the time, switching to lower heels occasionally throughout the day.
In addition to the above, always remember that shoes should feel comfortable at the time of purchase. Contrary to popular belief, there is no break-in period. “Never, never let the salesman convince you that the pinching shoe will feel better after you break it in,” warns Dr. Coughlin. “The only thing that will get broken is your foot.”
But what if your only options are a tight front with a comfortable heel or a comfortable front with a loose heel? Dr. Annu Goel, a podiatrist, says you should decide which is easier to correct. “There are two ways to do this,” she says. “First, you can buy shoes that are wide enough up front and insert pads to make the heel snugger. . . . The second strategy is to buy a shoe with a snug heel and have the front part of the shoe stretched. But generally this works only with shoes made of leather.”
Since many women walk an estimated ten miles [15 km] a day, they would do well to examine their footwear. As American Health magazine says, “by treating feet with more respect—especially by wearing shoes that fit—you can prevent most foot problems from ever occurring.”
A “last” is a foot-shaped form upon which a shoe is shaped.
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Four Common Foot Problems
Bunions. A bunion is a bump at the base of the big toe. When not hereditary, bunions may be caused by tight-fitting or high-heeled shoes. Application of heat or ice can provide temporary relief of pain, but surgery is needed for permanent removal of a bunion.
Hammertoes. Toes bent downward may be caused by shoes that put too much pressure on the front of the foot. Surgery may be required to correct the deformity.
Corns. Cone-shaped bumps on the toes, caused by friction and pressure, sometimes result from wearing shoes that are too narrow. Home remedies may give temporary relief, but surgery is usually necessary to correct the deformed toes that cause friction.
Calluses. Layers of thick, dead skin protect the foot from repetitive friction. Soaking in warm water and Epsom salts can soften them. But do not attempt to cut them, as this may invite infection.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration/J. G. Heck