Here we are, a zillion days into the pandemic (but who’s counting?) and what else is there to do besides wash your hands, social distance ourselves and wear your mask?
The answer: walking. We love to put one foot in front of the other if only to get outside and away from the loved ones we now spend all day/every day with.
But sometimes, that much walking can hurt. Indeed, 1 in 4 adults over the age of 45 suffer from foot pain, and for at least two-thirds of these people, that pain can be disabling. (You can rate your pain with this tool from The Institute for Preventive Foot Health.)
Why does this happen?
Meet your feet: Between bearing the weight of your body and being used for walking and jogging, they’re under a lot of pressure. (#footpun) Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and about 50 ligaments and tendons (not to mention the fibrous tissue that holds everything together). Each foot is put to the test every single day and over time, it all adds up.
Wear and tear is probably the top cause of foot problems as we age, says New York City-based podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera, a member of the footwear brand Vionic’s Innovation Lab. Over our lifetime, she says, there’s a cumulative effect on our feet.
Plantar fasciitis, heel spurs syndrome and tendinitis can happen suddenly, prompted by activities like walking on flat surfaces for too long while barefoot — while other not-fun stuff like bunions, bone spurs and hammertoes tend to progress more slowly over time.
What about menopause and foot pain?
There’s an indirect connection, says Sutera, who notes that hormones can play a role in women’s foot pain. “They’re responsible for decreased production of natural oils, the thinning of skin and lowering of bone density. Tendons, ligaments and joints become weaker, as well.”
This can all translate into issues like tendonitis, arthritis, osteopenia and osteoporosis, where bones become porous, making you more susceptible to fractures, especially in the feet.
Your feet can also lose their padding. Called fat pad atrophy, it’s caused by weight changes, hormones and wear-and-tear. As your natural shock absorber for your feet begins to wear away, you can’t get it back. You literally end up walking on skin and bone, which in turn, can cause pain, stress fractures, and a worsening of arthritis to boot. #morefootpuns
Anything else causing that pain in my foot?
Yes, lots. Over time, hammertoes and bunions can get worse, and you can develop bone spurs (extra calcifications on bony areas and joints). Your arches also become flatter and less flexible, which makes your foot “grow” wider and longer. And things like poor diet, exercise habits, genetic predisposition and our overall lifestyle can harm our feet, say Sutera.
Add up all these changes, and it’s possible to develop foot pain and other problems even if you’ve never had problems with your feet before.
What about high heels? Surely, you remember those…
I can’t wear them anymore… can you? It’s not because I don’t like them. I do. I just can’t bear the cost of the resultant foot pain anymore.
High heels put your feet at an unnatural angle that can throw your whole body out of alignment, strains the muscles and joints of the foot (along with the back, neck and shoulders), and places mega-pressure on the ball of your foot, too.
But there is a caveat: The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) says you can still wear heels if that’s your jam. Just stick to heel heights of two inches or lower. “Platforms are a great option because they’re more stable and distribute your body weight across a greater surface area than pumps or traditional heels,” says Sutera. When considering platforms, she suggests looking for a shoe that is not too high and preferably bends at the forefoot.
Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash
Beware the narrow shoe — and other life lessons
Any shoe with a narrow toe box (that’s the top part of the shoe that houses your toes) can squeeze your toes, causing something called Morton’s neuroma. That’s when a small nerve known as the common plantar digital nerve, gets irritated and can make it feel as if you’re walking on rocks.
It really, really hurts. Trust me.
What else should I know?
Know that foot pain can lead to falls: A 2017 study published in the journal Gerontology says: “Foot pain in older adults was associated with a 62 percent increased odds of recurrent falls.” And since falls can be devastating and can lead to impaired physical activity, hospitalization and even death, that’s obviously a bad thing.
Some good news
It’s not all bad.
Just like any other part of your body, taking care of your feet pays off. Here, Harvard Medical School tells you how. And for Pausers, Sutera shares her favorite basic foot health tips too:
Replace old and worn-out shoes.
Alternate different pairs throughout the day/week.
Limit your use of heels, or any other less foot-friendly styles.
Stay active, even if it doesn’t involve super high impact exercises like running and jogging.
And here are a few of our personal favorites:
Consider getting a gel mat for the kitchen, in front of your standing desk or any other spot where you stand a lot. (Jennifer is all about this in her kitchen now.)
Try warm foot soaks with your favorite essential oil and Epsom salts (especially soothing for arthritis).
Gently massage your feet to help increase blood flow.
Stretch your feet to keep them loose and limber.
Consider body-loving exercises that are easier on your feet, like biking and swimming; also rowing, mat Pilates, core work and seated strength training. “Switch it up,” says Sutera. “Injury often comes from repetitive motion.”
Wear shoes with rounded toes, good arch support, a low or flat heel and soft material — otherwise known as a supportive (and stylish!) sneaker.
Because no one says we still can’t look good while we care for our feet!
For A Pause
If your quarantine has you walking around the house all day every day barefoot, it might be time to rethink that sense of freedom, say these Cedars-Sinai experts. They argue that navigating your home while barefoot can be a no-no for foot health.
Instead of baring your toes, wear comfortable and supportive slippers or indoor shoes — especially on hard surfaces. We’re liking these from Vionic. (We love anything you can just slide on for a quick coffee run. We won’t tell anyone that they’re actually slippers!)
Did you know if you google “Ugly Shoes” it takes you to this page on Amazon? Scroll over to their “best seller” — Billy-Bob Big Old Hairy Feet — for a dose of Ewww, who would ever buy those?!
Would you believe that we’ve been wearing shoes for 40,000 years now?
One More Thing…
Meet Marla — and her doppelganger.
Much like Steve Buscemi, Marla also has her own fan following. You can read about her here.
Until next week, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.
See you next time!
These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
— These Boots Are Made for Walking, Nancy Sinatra
Know someone who could use a Pause? Why not share us with them? Thanks so much!
After reading this, I've been wearing my Ugg slippers, which are really slip-on clogs. I swear, it helps!
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my rheumatologist who recommended getting a pair of Croc slippers and wearing them from the moment I get out of bed and around the house. This has helped keep my plantar fasciitis at bay tremendously!