Foot Pain Relief Tips

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What are some conditions of the toes that can cause pain and disability?

Oh the Toes...So Much Can Go Wrong!

Foot pain can definitely set you back, but when the pain is specific to your toes it may be even more debilitating. At least if your heel, arch, or ankle hurts, you might get by with a really good shoe. But if your toes are the problem, shoes only make it worse. And since you must flex and push off of your toes in order to take a step using a normal gait pattern, walking is out of the question.

Some toe-related problems that cause feet pain include:

  • Ingrown toenails- If the edges of your nail become embedded in the skin on either side, there can be pain and even infection (which may require antibiotics or even removal of the ingrown portion by a physician). This surprisingly debilitating condition is caused by improper cutting of the nails, nails that grow faster on the sides than in the center, or pressure from ill-fitting shoes.
  • Bunion- A condition characterized by swelling and/or deformity at the base of the big toe, pain, and limited movement. The toe bends toward the next toe and the joint protrudes out to the side. It can result from wearing tight, high-heeled, or pointed-toe shoes, and is seven times more common in women than men.
  • Corns- Corns form when skin becomes thick and hardens in response to pressure or friction, usually on the tops or sides of the toes. They are small and have a hard center within the thickened area.
  • Hammer toes- The middle joint of the toe (usually the second one) juts upward, giving a claw-like appearance, and causing pain with walking and movement. While some people are genetically predisposed to this (perhaps their second toe is longer than the others), hammer toes can also result from wearing ill-fitting shoes.

Conditions like ingrown toenails and corns may be remedied with proper foot care and over-the-counter remedies. Structural problems, like bunions and hammer toes, may require medical attention in order to be relieved.

What is plantar fasciitis?

The First Step Is the Worst Step

You may be ready to jump right out of bed in the morning, but your feet might have another idea entirely. If you put your foot down and feel tightness, pulling, or a stabbing pain on the bottom, you may be experiencing symptoms of plantar fasciitis.

The plantar fascia is a thick, fibrous band that lines the bottom of the foot, running from the base of the toes to the heel bone. If that tissue is damaged, overstretched, strained, or inflamed, it will result in morning pain in feet, difficulty tolerating prolonged walking, increased pain when you try to walk after sitting, and discomfort when standing on tiptoes.

Plantar fasciitis can begin with acute ankle and heel pain, particularly when the fascia suffers micro-tearing from a sudden misstep. Typically it is more of a chronic condition that lingers in one or both feet for what seems like an eternity, but it can also come and go. Often, this type of pain lessens as the foot warms up, and returns after a period of inactivity (think sitting in a movie theatre for a couple of hours and then getting up to leave).

Efforts to relieve foot pain of this nature include:

  • Keeping your weight at a healthy level
  • Wearing well-cushioned shoes
  • Modifying your activity
  • Using ice
  • Massaging the foot
  • Gently stretching the bottom of the foot
  • Strengthening your arch
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

If the problem lingers, your doctor may prescribe NSAID's, physical therapy, or custom orthotics (shoe inserts) to improve the alignment of your foot and take pressure off the area.

Are flip flops bad for you?

Flip Flops: So Cute, But So Bad for You

They are the hallmark of balmy summer weather -- those thin-soled, brightly colored, lightweight flip flops that look so great with sun dresses and short shorts. But as cute and comfy as they are, these "shoes" (and that term is used very loosely) are not very good for your feet.

Researchers have found that people wearing flip flops, as compared to those who wear athletic shoes:

  • Take shorter steps
  • Have measurably less vertical force applied through their heels
  • Use less of a toe lift during the swing phase (when the forward moving leg is in the air) of gait
  • Walk using a larger ankle angle and shorter stride length

All of these contribute to an increased workload on the small, intrinsic muscles of the feet. More work for the muscles coupled with poor shock absorption increases the possibility of foot pain. Feet get sore and become more susceptible to overuse and chronic problems, particularly plantar fasciitis and arch strains.

While experts don't go so far as to recommend banning flip flops, they do recommend they only be worn for short periods of time, and should be replaced every three to four months.

What are orthotics?

We Can Rebuild You: Orthotics and Foot Pain

Orthotics are inserts for your shoes that are meant to alter the mechanics of your foot and the impact placed on them in an effort to provide foot pain relief. But are they what you need to help your aching feet?

Available over-the-counter or as a custom made device, foot orthotics can be made from many different materials. Pads, cushions, and heel lifts are inserts that are accommodating, offering pressure relief or a softer surface with which your foot can articulate. Custom orthotics are made after a mold is made for your foot or a 3D laser scan is performed. These inserts are specially fabricated to affect foot function itself, changing the mechanics of your lower extremity in an effort to lessen stress or improve alignment, thereby alleviating pain.

Basically, the goal of orthotics is to:

  • Correct abnormal walking patterns, improving alignment and body mechanics
  • Reduce pain
  • Provide support
  • Protect against worsening deformity in the foot
  • Relieve pressure in a specific area of the foot

A podiatrist, orthopedist, or chiropractor can determine if orthotics would be beneficial to you.

What can cause feet pain in children?

The Pain of Flat Feet

Flat feet, also called fallen arches, is a medical condition in which the arch of the foot collapses, allowing the entire sole of the foot to make contact with the ground. One or both feet may lack arches, which may cause an imbalance during development. Since footwear is constructed for normally arched feet, flat footed patients may experience pain from walking or wearing shoes. Flat feet pain causes standing and moving to be more difficult to perform on a regular basis. Some problems include:

  • Tired feet, which will become painful after walking or standing for long periods of time
  • Inability to exercise or play sports due to pain
  • Pain and swelling in the heel or arch of foot
Flat feet is usually diagnosed in children, but may improve before reaching the adult stage. If you think you may be experiencing pain from flat feet, and have not been diagnosed, it is important to consult a doctor immediately for help.

What is gout?

Gout : One of Humankind's Oldest Known Diseases

Sometimes an obvious injury or trauma is the cause of acute foot pain--you step on something sharp, twist your foot on a curb, fall out of your get the idea. For an obvious injury, immediate measures include stopping any bleeding, immobilizing the area (hold it still or wrap it up), applying ice, elevating the limb, and seeking medical attention if necessary.

In the absence of a specific trauma, acute pain in the foot can be a bit more challenging to deal with. One of the more common causes of such a sudden pain onset is gout. An acute attack of gout can cause excruciating pain in a single joint, typically at the base of the big toe. The condition is caused by an excess of uric acid, a naturally occurring substance created from proteins in the body. When uric acid concentrations get too high, they begin to crystallize, and those crystals accumulate in a joint and the surrounding tissue, causing acute pain and inflammation.

Treatment for foot pain of this nature includes:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID's)
  • Lifestyle changes aimed at preventing a recurrence of the problem, such as dietary changes to help with uric acid concentration in the body, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding alcohol
  • Altering your activities in order to provide ball of foot pain relief

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Carma Spence-Pothitt