10-Minute Foot Pain Checkup

We often ignore our feet until the moment we feel pain. We stuff them into ill-fitting shoes and never consider stretching them ,even though each step we take places two to three times of our body weight onto our feet, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. Over time, this repetitive use can cause a host of foot and alignment problems. Take our self-evaluation to find out other reasons for your foot pain and what you can do about it.

Step 1: Read Your Footprints

pathologies of foot

Put your feet into a bucket of water, then step on a piece of dark paper so that you leave “footprints.” You want the paper to be dark enough for you to see the outline of your foot. (Abrown paper grocery bag will work.) You can also try this the next time you step out of the shower or tub. What do your footprints tell you?

Problem: If your footprint looks like an oblong pancake with toes, you pronate excessively or have flat feet. Overpronation is a common problem that occurs when a person’s arch collapses from bearing weight. This can lead to arch strain and pain on the inside of the knee.

Solution: Try molded-leather arch supports, such as Dr. Scholl’s, available at the drugstore. When shopping for athletic shoes, ask a sales clerk for styles with “control” features — soles designed to halt that rolling-in motion. If arch supports or sports shoes don’t help, see a foot specialist about custom-molded orthotic shoe inserts.

Problem: If there’s little or no connection in your footprint between the front part of the foot and the heel, you under pronate, which means your arch is high and a lot of your weight is landing on the outside edge of your foot. Underpronation makes you more susceptible to ankle sprains and stress fractures.

Solution: Ask for “stability” athletic shoes, which are built with extra cushioning to remedy this problem. Plus, if you are prone to ankle sprains, wear high-top athletic shoes that cover the foot and ankle snugly to minimize damage from twists.

Step 2: Examine Your Shoes

What are your shoes trying to tell you?

From your closet, grab the shoes you wear most often and see if they show one of these wear patterns. For this evaluation, it’s best to examine a flat, closed-toe pair, such as a sports shoe or a dress shoe.

Wear on the ball of the foot

Problem: Your heel tendons may be too tight.

Solution: Stretch with heel raises.

Wear on the inner sole

Problem: You pronate or turn in.

Solution: Inner liners or orthotic supports may help. Orthotics are shoe inserts custom-molded by a foot specialist and used to correct an irregular walking pattern.

Toe-shaped ridges on the upper surface

Problem: Your shoes are too small or you have hammertoes. A hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes where the toe is bent at the middle joint, resembling a hammer.

Solution: Your shoe should have a roomy, rounded, or square toe box(the area of the shoe over the toes). For the best fit, outline your feet as you stand barefoot and take the outline to the shoe store. Get a shoe that reproduces that shape. Don’t purchase shoes that feel too tight, expecting them to “stretch” to fit.

Outer sole wear

Problem: Your feet turn out.

Solution: Orthotic shoe inserts may help.

A bulge and wear to the side of the big toe

Problem: You have a too-narrow fit or you have a bunion. A bunion occurs when the joint that connects your big toe to your foot gets larger and sticks out, causing a sore, swollen bump.

Solution: Outline your foot and measure the widest portion of that outline. Your shoes should be as wide as this portion.

Wear on the upper surface, above the toes

Problem: The front of your shoe is too low.

Solution: Find shoes with a roomy toe box. Bringing in old shoes when you’re buying new ones can be helpful if you have a knowledgeable salesperson. He or she can evaluate the wear patterns to help you get a better fit as well as a style that will compensate for the stresses you place on shoes.

Step 3: Test Your Foot Flexibility

Foot Flexibility

How flexible are your toes? Just using your toes, try to pick up a marble (excellent) or a small dishtowel (good). Increasing your flexibility by stretching your feet and strengthening your toes can help to prevent future foot discomfort. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends doing these simple exercises to keep your feet in good condition.

 Problem: Hammertoes or toe cramps

What to do:

Toe raise, toe point, toe curl: Hold each position for five seconds and repeat 10 times.

Toe squeeze: Place small corks between your toes and hold a squeeze for five seconds. Do this 10 times.

Sand walking:

Any chance you get, take off your shoes and walk in the sand at the beach. This not only massages your feet but strengthens your toes and is good for general foot conditioning. Watch out for glass! (Warning: This exercise is not recommended for people with diabetes.)

Problem: Bunions or toe cramps

What to do:

Big-toe pulls:

Place a thick rubber band around big toes and pull the big toes away from each other and toward the small toes. Hold for five seconds and repeat 10 times.

Toe pulls:

Put a thick rubber band around all of your toes and spread them. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat 10 times. This is also good for people with hammertoes.

Problem: Plantar fasciitis (heel pain) or arch strain

What to do:

Golf ball roll: Roll a golf ball under the ball of your foot for two minutes. This is a great massage for the bottom of the foot.

Problem: Pain in the ball of the foot

What to do:

Towel curls:

Place a small towel on the floor and curl it toward you, using only your toes. You can increase the resistance by putting a weight on the end of the towel. Relax and repeat this exercise five times. This is also recommended for people with hammertoes and toe cramps.

Marble pick-up:

Place 20 marbles on the floor. Pick up one marble at a time and put it in a small bowl. Do this exercise until you have picked up all 20 marbles.

Find the Best Shoe 

To avoid foot pain in the future, learn how to find the right shoes for your feet:

  • A healthy shoe is a shoe that is shaped like your foot.
  • Your shoes should be made of a buttery soft material that has some give, like glove leathers.
  • Flat shoes (with a heel height of one inch or less) are the healthiest shoes for your feet. If you must wear a high heel, the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society suggests that you keep to a heel height of two inches or less, limit wearing them to three hours at a time, and take them off coming to and from work or dinner.
  • Look for soles that are shock-absorbing and skid-resistant, such as rubber rather than smooth leather. If you buy shoes that have leather soles, you can take them to a shoe repair store to have skid-resistant rubber added to the bottoms or scuff up the soles with sand paper. You want to create traction control, so you don’t slip.
  • Avoid shoes that have seams over areas of pain, such as a bunion.
  • Laced, rather than slip-on shoes, provide a more secure fit and can accommodate insoles, orthotic devices, and braces.
  • As we get older, our feet get longer and wider. Get feet measured every couple of years or after any major event, such as pregnancy, injury, or weight gain.

When to See a Doctor 

Foot pain can be a sign of a bigger health problem. If you are experiencing recurrent foot pain and have any of these symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor or an orthopaedist.

  • Pain that persists for more than 72 hours
  • Swelling of one leg or foot that persists for more than 24 hours
  • Pain that increases with exercise or walking
  • Pain at rest or with elevation of the legs
  • Sudden progression of a foot deformity
  • Any infection
  • Development of a blister or ulcer on the foot that you did not feel occurring or which is not healing
  • Loss of sensation

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