We need our feet for a variety of different activities and use them almost constantly throughout a day, but unless they hurt, few people stop to think about them or how they work. I am frequently told that feet are gross, but I find them fascinating for the many activities that would be so much harder if they were not functioning well.
The heel is one of the most common areas of pain in our feet. The plantar fascia is a thick, tough connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel out to each of the toes. Inflammation of the plantar fascia is called plantar fasciitis and occurs due to overuse. Treating it involves understanding what caused the overuse. Common causes are poor foot mechanics or sudden increase in activity without allowing the body a chance to accommodate it, but it can also occur due to changes or defects in footwear or training surface. Peripheral Arterial Disease can also lead to foot problems such as chronic non-healing wounds, particularly on the heel and toes, however, the difference with these is that they need to be managed with surgical treatment as opposed to foot mechanics.
Ramping up exercise routines too fast, too frequently, or too intensely can also result in stress fractures. There is a delicate balance of building new bone and breaking down old bone. Increasing exercise too quickly can limit the ability of muscles to absorb stresses. This increased stress, without enough time to recover, causes the body to resorb bone faster than it can rebuild it and results in tiny fractures that can become stress fractures. The second and third metatarsals are the most common areas for stress fractures to occur. Treatment includes rest and when returning to activity, requires altering the abnormal stressors that caused the problem in the first place.
If you haven’t noticed by now, good foot mechanics are key in preventing pain in your feet. Some of the most common foot deformities caused by abnormal mechanics can be seen in the toes in the form of bunions, hammer toes, and claw toes. Bunions occur due to excessive pronation which is sometimes the result of inherited foot structure. Nonetheless, the progression of a bunion can be slowed by strengthening the foot and learning to make wise decisions regarding footwear. The problem with inadequate footwear could be solved by opting for higher quality options instead. Bunions are more common in a flatter foot, whereas, claw toes and hammer toes are more common in higher arched feet. Claw toes and hammer toes occur due to an imbalance in the muscles and tendons surrounding the toes and can be treated by altering this imbalance.
Get to know your feet. It just might help you relieve pain and prevent future injuries. You never know. Better understanding could turn what used to be gross into something purposeful!