The feet are perhaps the most distant part of our physical awareness and as such are often overlooked. We neglect them by wearing the wrong footwear, or failing to tend to the nails, cuticles and hard skin. When something goes wrong – when our shoes rub and we get a blister, or when a nail starts to ingrow, or we get a bunion – then we become all too aware of our feet and the burden they bear carrying us around all day. Because the feet take the weight of the whole body, foot problems can quickly affect the way you walk. This in turn can cause knee, hip and back pain.
A few facts about feet:
• each foot has more than 100 ligaments, which help facilitate the broad range of movement it is capable of;
• with 26 bones in each foot, more than a quarter of the bones in the whole body are in the feet;
• the skin on the feet has more than 7,000 nerve endings, making them highly sensitive to their environment;
• there are more sweat glands in your feet than any other part of your body, each foot producing around half an eggcup’s worth of sweat every day.
Here are five simple ways to reconnect with your feet and keep them healthy:
Five-toe socks are much better than the traditional design of sock because they allow the toes to splay and align naturally, providing greater stability and comfort. When the toes are separated, properly aligned and splayed, it distributes the body’s weight evenly and allows the entire foot to be engaged in whatever activity is being performed, walking, running etc. With each toe separated and protected in its own sheath, skin-on-skin friction is completely eliminated, protecting the feet from blisters and other hotspots.
It’s important to wear appropriate footwear for the activity being engaged in. Walking any great distance in flip-flops then, is not a good idea.
High heels and pointed shoes are best kept to special occasions. Wearing heels on a regular basis can cause blisters, corns, calluses, as well as foot, ankle and back pain. The College of Podiatry’s advice is to limit wearing heels to around three to eight hours. The shoes should fit correctly, not too narrow and with up to half an inch of space beyond the longest toe. The height of heels shouldn’t be so high you have trouble walking. Podiatrists advise high heel wearers to slow down, take smaller steps and shorten their stride. Put the heel down first and glide to minimise foot damage. Finally, feet should be given special attention during and after wearing high heels. Exercise the calf, heel and foot muscles by stretching them out to increase circulation and help them relax. A moisturising foot massage once home will help the foot muscles relax and rehydrate them.
For runners, a video gait analysis is very useful to ensure the correct trainers for the way you naturally run. It’s worth investing in the best training shoes you can afford to correct any irregularities in your running action, e.g. heels pronating in- or outwards, which can lead to foot and ankle pain or shin splints. Specialist running shops like Runners Need have the technology to video and analyse your gait as you run on a running machine, and thereafter advise you on the best sport shoes to suit your natural biomechanics and training goals.
Attending a Pilates class on a regular basis will help build a strong awareness of your feet, i.e. how they move, how they relate to the rest of your body, where you’re inclined to place them and how the weight is distributed on them. A well-designed Pilates class will take your feet and ankles through their full range of movement: flexion, extension, pronation and supination. Some Pilates exercises involve a balance element, which helps build the strength of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that move and support the foot and ankle. This can improve stability and avoid the foot rolling in or out when walking or running.
It’s important to wash your feet before going to bed. If dirt is left on the surface, the skin can become irritated and infected. Wash your feet every evening with soap and water then dry them well, especially between the toes, where germs such as Athlete’s foot can easily breed. After drying, apply a moisturising foot cream rather than body lotion, which is less able to keep the tougher skin you have on your feet smooth, soft and hydrated.
Hard Skin and Nail Care
Gently remove hard skin and calluses on a regular basis using a pumice stone, file or for a better finish requiring less effort, an electric hard skin remover is well worth the investment. The Emjoi Micro-Pedi hard skin remover is particularly effective and comes highly recommended.
Toe nails should be cut regularly, straight across, never at an angle or down the edges as this can cause ingrown toenails.