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Step lively with healthier feet

Keep your feet strong and you’ll stay more active.

healthier feet strong active
Image: Gualtiero Boffi/Thinkstock

Socrates may have been the first to equate healthy feet with quality of life when he famously said, “When one’s feet hurt, one hurts all over.” His observation rings true even millennia later.

“As you age, healthy feet become even more important for staying mobile, active, and safe,” says Dr. Kevin Reimer, a podiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “When it hurts to walk, you cut back on activities that you enjoy and that keep you healthy.”

Over the years, your feet can become more susceptible to problems that make walking more difficult and dangerous. While some of these issues result from genetics or specific medical conditions, many are your own doing.

“And if the initial foot problem is not treated, it may lead to further issues, such as skin infections, injuries, or deformities,” says Dr. Reimer.

Here’s a look at these issues and how to get a step up on treatment and prevention.

Heel pain (plantar fasciitis)

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. It occurs when the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends from the heel to the toes becomes inflamed or injured.

This can be caused by general overuse, but tight calf muscles also can contribute. “These muscles act like shock absorbers when you walk, and when they become tight and inflexible, your body compensates and places more stress on your feet,” says Dr. Reimer.

Fix it: Rest, ice, and over-the-counter painkillers reduce soreness and inflammation. After that, calf exercises can improve calf strength and flexibility. Stand near a wall or chair for support with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then rise on your toes to a point of resistance and hold for five to 10 seconds. Lower, and repeat five to 10 times.


A bunion is a visible bump on the side of the foot near the base of the big toe, caused by the misalignment of bones in the foot. The problem can develop on one foot or both.

As bunions progress, they can become sore and inflamed, which makes it difficult to walk. They are often hereditary, but wearing shoes with a too-narrow toe box that bunches the toes together is a likely culprit. Over time, this cramping causes the big toe to lean inward and changes the angle of the bones, eventually producing the characteristic bump.

Fix it: Shoes with a wider toe box to accommodate the bunion can help reduce pressure and lessen pain. Another remedy is a rubber toe separator placed between the big and second toes. This helps to straighten the big toe and lessen the bunion bulge.

If pain and discomfort become too severe, a surgeon can remove the bunion. Recovery can take from four weeks to four months, depending on the bunion’s severity as well as your age, mobility, and pain tolerance.

Hammertoes and claw toes

While bunions affect the big toe, hammertoes and claw toes affect the other four. With hammertoes, the toe bends upward at the first joint (where the toe meets the foot) and bends downward at the middle joint. Claw toes are the same, except the tiny joint at the end of the toe also curls to resemble a claw.

Hammertoes often occur when your second toe is longer than the big toe, you have flat feet, or you wear shoes that are too short. Claw toes are common in people with high arches.

Fix it: Shoes with extra depth in the toe box might return the toes to their normal condition. If the problem is advanced, scar tissue may form and tighten the joint, which keeps it from moving. In this case, you need surgery to reconstruct or replace the joints.

If the shoe fits

For everyday use and exercise, invest in several pairs of high-quality walking or running shoes. Here’s how to get the right fit:

  • Know your gait and arches. A podiatrist can measure your arch and evaluate your gait to determine whether your foot rolls inward, outward, or is neutral. (Many specialty running stores also provide this service. This can determine the best shoe size and arch support.

  • Go up half a size. Fitness shoes should be a half-size larger than normal to accommodate any swelling during activity.

  • Shop later in day. Your foot is larger by day’s end.

  • Watch your width. Your foot naturally widens as you age. Make sure your shoes have the proper width: remove the insole and step on it. If your foot goes over the sides, then the shoe is too narrow.

Image: panatheai/Thinkstock

Posted by: Dr.Health

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