As humans, we are unique creatures for a couple of reasons – one for our ability to reason and two because we live life upright instead of on all fours. Living upright puts a pretty constant workload on our feet. Our feet can become painful or sensitive over time and foot pain is a common complaint in physical therapy. There are many basic strategies and self-treatments you can try if foot pain plagues you.
First, let’s start with some fun foot trivia. Though small in comparison to the rest of the body, there are 26 bones in the human foot with 33 joints present as well as 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons. When we look at both feet combined, that is 52 bones, which is roughly 25% of the bones in the whole body which is an impressive amount for such a relatively small area. The foot is the first thing to strike the ground when walking. It has to deal with ground reaction forces, as well as, support or lack thereof from its neighbors – the knee, hip, and core. If any of these factors are not working correctly, it becomes easy to understand why our feet can be a common area that hurts. Here are a few things to think about and try if foot pain is an issue for you.
- Footwear– Footwear should fit well (not too tight or too loose) and be supportive. Cushioning degrades over time. So, if your shoes are old, it may be time to think about a new pair. Ladies, I appreciate fashion but if it’s not a necessity, try to stay out of heels for extended periods as it alters mechanics throughout the whole lower body chain. Lastly, if your feet hurt, flip flops are a big no no as they offer minimal to no support or stability especially if walking for long distances.
- Motion and Flexibility– If you lack motion, joint and muscle mechanics are altered, so keep the foot, knee, and hip moving well as any limitations can cause altered foot mechanics and pain.
- Strength– weakness anywhere through the core or leg (especially the hip!) can cause increased stress, strain, and or pain in the foot so keep those muscles conditioned.
- Balance/Proprioception– The foot is very dynamic and lives and moves in many different angles to function. If it stops moving or reacting in 3 planes of motion, pain can result. So, incorporate balance exercises and you can even try a compressive sleeve for some proprioceptive input.
- Massage– Whether you get a traditional foot massage, or roll your foot over a golf ball or frozen bottle, massage eases muscle tension and increases blood flow to decrease pain and promote a healing response.
- RICE– Rest, ice, compression, and elevation can also help, especially in acute instances where some pain and swelling may be present.
- Positional Changes– Our bodies are meant to move and not be in one certain position for any length of time. So, when you’re on your feet for a while, take a seat even if only momentarily to decrease the buildup of foot stresses that may be present. Concrete surfaces are more unforgiving, so good foot support in your shoes will also help.
- Warm Foot Soak– Heat is a natural pain/tension reliever. If you add Epsom salt, you also get magnesium, a mineral necessary for regulating over 300 enzymes in the body, which allow our bodies to properly function. Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxer which can help relieve minor aches and pains.
- Braces/supports– If unstable or presenting with altered bone position over the counter orthotics, braces, and supports can often give some much needed stability decreasing stress and strain.
- Medicine/gels– You can go the standard route with aspirin, ibuprofen or try a gel like Bengay, Capsaicin, or Arnica for pain relief.
Hopefully this gives you a few things to try for minimizing your foot pain but if your pain continues to be significant, follow up with your doctor or head over to any Athletico for a complimentary injury screening.