Treat Your Feet
Quick Fixes for Four Common Foot Pains
Feet don’t get enough credit.
Twenty-six bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons make up the human foot. They’re a critical part of one of the most versatile suspension systems in the world, and they’re our most fundamental source of transportation — often taking us 10,000 or more steps every day.
Yes, they can be a little (or a lot) gross. No, they’re not the most attractive appendage. But they are absolutely one of humankind’s most underappreciated body parts.
Not to mention, they often endure a life sentence incarcerated in shoes that are too tight, too loose, too rigid or not rigid enough. We brutalize them daily, then complain when they hurt. Little wonder they act up.
Before we address the pain, take a moment to appreciate your feet. Consider researching shoes that fit your feet and gait. With the right pair of shoes, you’ll prevent much of the misery we troubleshoot below.
“Tired feet are just a part of life,” says Dr. Darren Groberg, a podiatrist in Salt Lake City. “Everyone gets swelling in their legs and feet by the end of the day, and that causes fatigue.”
Standing engages muscles in your feet and legs, keeping you upright and balanced. The longer you stand, walk and work those muscles, the tighter and more fatigued they get. Tense muscles restrict the flow of reinvigorating oxygen-rich blood. And as your muscles tighten, your joints do too, limiting their flexibility and resiliency.
Luckily, rejuvenation is simple. A warm Epsom salt soak helps feet relax, and a few minutes of stretching and massaging gets the blood flowing.
According to Groberg, friction, pressure and sheer force are the most common causes of blisters. Given the amount of time our feet spend confined in a hot, tight prison of rubber, vinyl, plastic or leather, it’s no wonder he says he deals with blisters “a ton.”
A layer of protective moleskin can relieve the discomfort caused by a blister. After that, simply avoid the activity that caused it.
“Generally if they’re filled with clear fluid and they don’t hurt, I’m a fan of not popping them right away,” Groberg says. “It’s clean inside the blister, and leaving it alone gives the underlying dermis a chance to heal.”
However, Groberg recommends lancing blood blisters — they have a higher risk of infection when left alone.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of a tight band of tissue that attaches to your heel bone and stretches to the ball of your foot. It’s not a ligament or a tendon, but it is similar — think of it as the suspension system for your foot.
To resolve plantar fasciitis quickly, Groberg recommends a multipronged approach. First, take a break from whatever caused the irritation. Consider getting a new pair of shoes with additional arch support and cushioning. Then take an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen and ice your foot multiple times a day — try rolling a frozen water bottle back and forth on your heel.
“The only other thing I have my patients do is calf stretches. A tight calf muscle adds to the pressure on the fascia, so stretches can be very helpful,” Groberg says.
After years of strain, the lubrication and padding in your joints start to wear out and fail. Unhappily, there’s no way to get them back, and the more you aggravate the affected joints, the worse they get.
So when it comes to osteoarthritis, the most effective solution is often to simply stop doing what you’re doing. If that isn’t feasible, you might find relief by pairing anti-inflammatory drugs with an assistive device.
“Get a stiffer, more supportive shoe, a custom orthotic, an assistive boot, or something that controls motion in the foot and ankle. The more you can limit motion, the better the joints will do,” Groberg says.