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We recently ran into a middle-aged friend and sometime patient who was complaining of growing aches and pains in her knees, hips and back. She wasn't an athlete, or particularly active, so the pain probably wasn't from overuse. She also didn't have a weight problem, so stress on the joints from obesity wasn't the answer. She remarked that she thought she might have Lyme Disease and had set up an appointment with her family physician to be tested. Sorry to hear that, we said, That's truly a painful condition.
And then we looked down at her shoes - the most beat-up, worn-out flats we ever saw.
"You have flat feet, don't you?"
"Yes, I do."
"Do you wear those shoes often?"
"Yes, I love them."
"Throw them away and never wear them again. Those shoes have zero support and flat feet need arch support. I bet if you wear sneakers instead your pain will go away."
"I hadn't thought of that."
Most people assume that the growing pain in their knees, hips, or back is caused by a crippling disease or an unknown injury. But in fact, the source of your pain may actually be rooted in your feet - or more specifically, heels and arches which aren't supported correctly (as in our friend's case), or feet that are out of alignment with your ankle and leg.
The older we get...
As we age we have to take better care of our feet. After forty-plus years of neglect, they gradually become painful, arthritic, misaligned, and prone to bunions and hammertoes. Our feet are designed to distribute and support our body weight evenly across the forefoot and heels, and a critical part of this is the proper alignment of the foot/ankle and the ankle/lower leg. In the case of those who have flat feet, arch support is required for proper alignment and to avoid fatigue.
When we're out of alignment, or lack arch support, we get tired and sore, which causes us to shift our body weight to get comfortable. Then the sides of our foot, forefoot or heel carry too much weight and our ankles, knees, hips and legs compensate, which causes stress on the joints. And when the stress is continuous, the joints become irritated and painful.
It may be hard to believe that such acute and bothersome pain can be caused by a lack of arch support or the misalignment of your foot/ankle/lower leg. In many cases, a simple change in footwear to a quality pair of athletic shoes, worn as often as possible, is the answer. To correct your alignment and relive fatigue, your podiatrist may also recommend custom orthotics to be worn inside your shoes.
And how is our friend doing now, one month later? She reports that she's been wearing sneakers as often as possible and her back, hip and knee pain is nearly gone. Voila!
If you've ever taken a yoga class, one thing was probably clear immediately: your feet and ankles weren't nearly as strong as you thought they were. In the U.S. and much of the world, we go about our daily business in shoes which protect our feet and our health. If we're athletes, we buy shoes which protect our feet from injuries and hopefully give us a little extra juice when we need it.
But on the downside, those shoes can prevent the muscles in our feet from getting the exercise they need. And as we age, it shows: bunions, hammer toes, aching arches, aching toes, poor balance, and a host of other maladies (some of these are inherited traits).
Strong feet and ankles are essential for anyone, and especially as we age, to maintain our balance. Running, biking, weight lifting and any athletic activity is great, but they tend to develop one side of the body more than the other, due to our natural left-hand, right-hand propensity. Yoga aims to create equal strength and also loosens the joints, helping them avoid injury and maintain flexibility.
One of the first lessons in yoga is how to stand. This may seem silly at first, but our feet are our foundation, and we quickly learn that we need to unlearn some bad habits. Over the years we lean into the sides of our feet, lean back on our heels, lean forward, or shift weight from sore areas. All of these habits change the way we walk and stand, throwing our legs and ankles out of alignment and placing stress on other parts of our body. The result is pain and stiffness anywhere between the toes and neck.
Try these simple yoga-based exercises to build strength in your ankles, feet and toes. Do all exercises barefoot on a flat surface. If you have medical problems with your feet or ankles, or are obese, consult your physician before attempting.
Learn To Evenly Distribute Your Weight
The strength of your feet - and especially your arches - determines if your leg is aligned with your ankle. Strengthening your arches starts with an awareness of how you stand.
Standing upright in bare feet, sense where your weight falls in your feet. Your feet are meant to carry your body weight evenly - not back on the heels or on the balls of your feet. Press down evenly through the heels, the balls, and your toes. You'll feel the difference in your balance immediately. While standing upright and evenly balanced, spread the soles and toes as much as you can and reach the toes forward.
Stretch and Strengthen Your Feet
One of the most common yoga poses, Downward-Facing Dog, stretches the soles of your feet and strengthens your arches. In this position, gently push your heels toward the floor as much as possible. Learn how to do it here.
To stretch the tops of your feet and strengthen your ankles, try Hero Pose (only do this if you have no knee problems). Kneel on the floor, keeping your thighs perpendicular to the floor and touch your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips, but keep the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Then sit down between your feet. If your buttocks don't rest comfortably on the floor, support them with a thick book placed between your feet. Now lift your sternum, sitting as upright as possible, and try to release your shoulder blades away from your ears. Hold for 1 minute.
Raising yourself on your toes is a simple and excellent way to strengthen your feet. While this may seem easy at first, try doing it very slowly. You'll be surprised at how much effort you'll expend.
Strengthen your toes
Stand with your feet so that they're directly under your hips. Try to lift just the big toe on each foot, while keeping the other toes on the floor. Then do the opposite: lift all the toes except the big toe. Switch back and forth. You'll find that one part of that exercise will be a lot easier than the other. That's because those who pronate (roll the foot inward when they walk) typically have a hard time lifting their big toes, and those who supinate (roll the foot outward) have a hard time lifting the other toes.
Leaning is Exercise
Leaning teaches us how to balance our weight across our feet. Those who shift their weight to their heels leave the front of their foot without much to do, and the foot weakens.
Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart and put a soft bend in your knees. Lean forward at the ankle as if you were about to ski down a slope. Do not lean from the waist or hips - keep the lean in your ankles. This exercise wakes up the muscles in your toes and the soles of your feet.
If your feet feel tired after these exercises, that's good - it means that the muscles are being worked. If your feet are sore, that's not good - back off a little next time around.
But for those who once had arches, Flatfoot slowly develops from wear and tear (aging) or trauma, causing pain in the arches, heels, ankles, knees or hips, as the leg and foot fall out of alignment. The culprit is usually damage to the posterior tibial tendon which runs along the inside of your ankle - when it weakens, it can no longer support the arch.
We all start with zero arch. We're born with flat feet and slowly our arches develop during childhood, becoming fully developed in adulthood.
The arches and the biomechanics of the lower leg are intimately linked - our arches literally put a "spring" in our step, determine how we walk and distribute our body weight proportionally across our feet and legs. Arches also need to be sturdy and flexible to adapt to various surfaces. When the strength or flexibility of the arch fails, the alignment and balance of the foot and leg suffers.
The most common cause of Adult Acquired Flat Foot Deformity (AAFFD) is damage to the posterior tibial tendon, one of the most important tendons in your leg. Starting at the calf, the posterior tibial tendon travels down the inside of your leg and heel, and attaches to the bones on the inside of your foot. The main function of the tendon is to support your arch and foot. If the tendon suffers chronic damage such as persistent inflammation, it may lose its ability to support your arch, and the arch will slowly collapse. Pain and discomfort from AAFFD can be substantial, occurring anywhere in the foot, heel, ankle, knee, back, or hip.
Inflammatory arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, attacks the cartilage in the joints as well as the ligaments that support the foot. The inflammation causes not only pain, but also may change the shape of the foot and cause the arch to drop.
Ligament injury causes the joints to fall out of alignment. The job of the ligaments is to hold the bones in place and prevent them from moving. When the ligaments are damaged, the bones fall, flattening the arch.
Fractures or dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can lead to Flatfoot deformity.
Charcot Foot Disorder, a complication of diabetes, results from a nerve condition (diabetic peripheral neuropathy) which causes a loss of sensation in the feet. An infection in the foot, unknown to the patient, causes weakness in the ligaments and bones, leading to collapse of the arch and other complications. Complicated surgery is required to correct the problem.
Watch the story of how we alleviated the pain of Flatfoot (and other conditions) for one of our patients.
Did you ever have one of those really active days - running, hiking, jumping, maybe just standing for a really long time on your feet - and the balls of your feet ached like crazy? Well my friend, you were probably suffering from the dreaded Metatarsalgia.
Metatarsalgia isn't as serious as it sounds. It simply refers to minor pain and inflammation of fatigued and overused metatarsal bones (the long bones in your feet). The pain appears in the area where the metatarsals join your toe bones, otherwise known as the ball of your foot - the area of your sole behind your toes (not just behind the big toe). The pain usually begins as a mild ache and worsens over a period of months.
Usually, metatarsalgia is caused by ill-fitting shoes combined with lots of activity. Most cases of metatarsalgia aren't serious, and rest, ice and over the counter pain medicine will resolve the pain.
But if left untreated, the classic cascade effect may kick in: The balls of your feet hurt, so you unconsciously shift weight to other parts of your feet, which eventually causes pain in those areas, which again causes you to shift your weight. Since your legs, ankles and feet are drifting farther out of alignment, the joints above your feet start feeling the impact and you suddenly have pain in your knees, back, or hips. And it all began with minor, treatable pain in your feet.
Prolonged metatarsalgia which doesn't resolve in 10 days should always be reported to your podiatrist, as it can be a symptom of other, more serious conditions.
Intense training. Most runners are accustomed to occasional bouts of metatarsalgia, as the front of the foot absorbs significant shock when running. But this can be true of anyone who plays a high impact sport, especially basketball, soccer, tennis, football, or track and field events. It's sometimes a sign that your athletic shoes are worn out and need to be replaced.
The shape of your foot. If you have a high arch, extra pressure is placed on the metatarsals, increasing the chance of pain from overuse. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, more weight than normal is shifted to the 2nd metatarsal head, and that may cause pain as well.
A muscle imbalance. Tight toe extensors or weak toe flexors don't properly support the metatarsal bones and may cause fatigue and pain from overuse. A too-tight tight achilles tendon may be a contributor as well.
Stiff ankles, perhaps the result of a previous injury or arthritis, don't support the foot correctly, placing too much pressure on the forefoot.
Excessive pronation - the side-to-side movement of your foot - may contribute.
Carrying too many pounds. Your forefoot carries most of your body weight when you walk of run. Extra pounds means extra pressure on the metatarsals. Additionally, as we age, the fat pad in the foot tends to thin out, reducing its cushioning effect. A weight management plan may reduce your symptoms.
Poorly fitting shoes and high heels. That's right, ladies. While high heels make you look great, they're murder on your feet (like I had to tell you that). High heel shoes are a very common cause of metatarsalgia in women, as they transfer your body weight to the front of the foot, working against how the foot is designed to carry your weight. Athletic shoes which don't support your feet correctly are also guilty of causing metatarsalgia.
Stress fractures in the metatarsals or in the toe bones change the way you walk, which may result in metatarsalgia.
Morton's Neuroma, a growth of fibrous tissue around the nerve between your 3rd and 4th metatarsal heads causes symptoms similar to metatarsalgia.
Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments for Metatarsalgia
Every parent knows that their children's feet grow at alarming speed. One day you buy them new shoes and the next day the shoes are too tight. It's enough to make you want to send them into the world barefoot.
The never-ending growth spurts in children's feet are due to the fact that the foot is one of the first parts of the body to grow to full size. This speedy growth is accompanied by uneven development in the lower leg and ankle, making muscles and tendons very tight and the heel less flexible. This inflexibility exposes the heel to injury and places a lot of stress on the growth plate, a soft area at the end of the heel which eventually fuses with the heel bone (calcaneus).
Sever's Disease (calcaneal apophysitis), the most common cause of heel pain in children, is a painful inflammation of the heel's growth plate. The heel bone is not fully developed until age 14 or 15, and is constantly adding new bone at the growth plate (physis). When the growth plate is subjected to a lot of repetitive stress, like that in athletics, inflammation can develop.
It should be noted that the symptoms of heel pain in adults are different from heel pain in children. In adults, heel pain is usually at its worst in the morning and decreases or subsides as the tissue warms up with activity. But in children, heel pain usually doesn’t diminish as the child moves around – in fact it may get much worse.
Fortunately, Sever’s Disease is a temporary condition and with rest and treatment, symptoms will usually subside within 8 weeks. If the condition persists, it's important that your child sees a podiatrist for a thorough evaluation and treatment plan. The risk of recurrence of Sever’s Disease diminishes with age and typically doesn't occur after 15, when foot growth is complete and the growth plate has fused to the rest of the heel bone.
If your child complains about heel pain, don’t take it lightly, as early intervention and treatment by a podiatrist is key to a continued healthy development.
If you're an adult, there's a very good chance that you've fractured or broken a bone in your foot at some point. After all, there are 26 bones in each foot, and they have to take the impact of everything from walking to skydiving. That means there's a high percentage that at least one of them is going to fracture under the stress, which can range from a small crack in the bone known as a stress fracture, to a complete break which penetrates through the skin.
The adult foot is divided into three sections: the forefoot, made up of the toes (phalanges) and the longer bones which connect to them (metatarsals); the midfoot, which contains a collection of bones that form your arches (navicular bone, cuboid bone, and cuneiform bones); and the hindfoot, which contains 2 bones that form part of your ankle and all of your heel (talas bone and calcaneus). Additionally, in most people there are very small bones called sesamoids at the base of the big toe. That's a lot of moving parts, and a fracture can occur in any of them.
It's essential to have a foot fracture treated as soon as possible by a podiatrist, so that the bone and tissue injury heals correctly. Without treatment, you run the risk of developing arthritis in the fractured area, blood clots, deformity, persistent pain, infection, weakness, reduced movement, loss of feeling in your foot or damage to blood vessels, tissues and nerves.
Types of fractures in the foot
There are a number of options your podiatrist may choose to treat your foot fracture. The treatment depends on what kind of fracture you have, where it's located in the foot, and how much discomfort it's causing you. Your podiatrist may choose one or more of the following treatments:
After initial treatment, your podiatrist will order you to rest and elevate the foot whenever possible, and ice the foot if it's swollen or painful. When the bone has healed, they may order physical therapy to help improve range of motion and strength in the bone and help to decrease any residual pain.
One of the most important aspects of a child's physical and emotional development is game play - the kind that doesn't involve sitting in front of a video screen. Organized sports, activities like climbing trees, biking, going for a swim, or just playing imaginary games with other kids in the neighborhood are all positive for their growth (think running, walking, jumping, moving - organized or otherwise). Good habits learned early follow a child into adulthood, and are key in combating the childhood and adult obesity epidemic.
But of course, foot, ankle, and heel pain complaints and other injuries run hand-in-hand with activity. Parents should note that the cause and symptoms of heel pain in children can be considerably different from heel pain in adults. If you've experienced heel pain, specifically plantar fasciitis, you know that its very bad in the morning, but diminishes as the tissue warms up with activity.
But in children, heel pain usually becomes much worse as the day wears on, and may be due to a condition called Sever's disease, an inflammation of the growth plate in their heel. This condition is especially common in children who are highly active or overweight. Heel pain in adolescents may also be due to plantar fasciitis, fractures in the heel bone, bursitis, achilles tendinitis, or other conditions. The good news is, a podiatrist can successfully resolve Sever's disease or other heel pain conditions in your child in almost every case.
Check out the Facebook page for NFL Play 60 to see how you can encourage your child to be more active.
Unfortunately, some children are slow to complain about heel pain and other injuries, which is where parents have to keep a watchful eye. When a child has pain in their heel, or pain elsewhere in their foot or ankle, it can cause any number of changes in the development of their bodies, as they shift weight and change their gait to compensate for the pain. This imbalance also makes them prone to further injuries. Parents should be mindful of changes in their children's body langauge and behavior, so that a heel pain injury can be addressed early.
Your child may be experiencing heel pain if you notice any of these changes:
If your child complains about heel pain (or any other kind of pain), take it seriously and don't encourage them to "walk it off" or "play through it" - that's old school advice and may cause more damage in a person of any age. Your child should immediately leave the game or curtail their activities. To treat the injury at home, they should rest, ice their foot, and use an age and weight appropriate dose of advil or aleve to manage the pain. They should not resume strenuous physical activity until the heel pain has completely subsided. When your child resumes activity, it should be gradually, accompanied by appropriate stretching exercises to warm up their ankles and feet. Children should also wear athletic shoes which support their feet properly (but it's okay to let them run barefoot when appropriate).
If your child's heel pain continues for more than one week, make an appointment to see a podiatrist for an exam and diagnosis. Early intervention and treatment is the key to successfully resolving their complaint so they can get back to kid stuff as soon as possible.
Very few adults are strangers to heel pain. At some point in our lives, we've run too hard, hiked too far, gained too much weight, played basketball in past-their-prime sneakers, or didn't rest when we should have. Sometimes it even appears for no reason we can pinpoint. But without a doubt, we never forget that pinching and excruciating pain in our heel.
Heel pain occurs in the underside or the back of your heel. When it appears on the underside, it's usually a result of damage or irritation to the plantar fascia, the tendon which runs from your heel to the base of your toes. This type of heel pain is called plantar fasciitis. If heel pain occurs at the back of your heel, the cause is usually damage to the Achilles tendon, such as achilles tendinitis. But heel pain can also be caused by arthritis, a bruise, heel spurs, gout, pinched nerve, bursitis ("pump bump"), peripheral neuropathy, a fracture, bone infection, or other conditions. For this reason, any heel pain should always be evaluated by a podiatrist to determine the best course of treatment to get you back on your feet as soon as possible.
Rest, Ice, and Elevation. Ice packs on the heel reduce inflammation, especially when paired with over the counter anti inflammatory medicine like advil or aleve. Rest and elevate the sore foot whenever possible.
Change your routine. If heel pain is the result of an athletic injury, change your routine. Training the same way, on the same surface, with the same shoes, will only make things worse.
Stretch before working out. Stretching your feet, raising yourself on your toes, even walking, will help warm up the plantar fascia and achilles tendon, reducing the risk of injury. When muscles, tendons, bones, and joints are gently warmed up before a workout, they're much better at handling the load you demand of them.
Are you wearing a quality pair of shoes? Whether athletic shoes or dress shoes, your footwear must fit your feet correctly and give ample support and padding. You may save money with cheap shoes, but the pain will be expensive.
Read more: Does your child have heel pain?
You have pain in your big toe, the joint below your big toe is sore and stiff and a bump protrudes from the side of your foot, frequently ruining your footwear. You may have just discovered a bunion.
[caption id="attachment_5040" align="alignleft" width="360"] The protrusion at the base of the big toe is a bunion.[/caption]
It's commonly thought that high heels and other non-flat footwear are the cause of bunions. While these shoes aren't the primary reason for developing a bunion, they definitely contribute to their severity.
The truth is, some women can wear high heels their entire lives and never develop a bunion. Others can make all the right choices in footwear and still develop them. That's because the foot structure which contributes to a bunion is an inherited trait, especially common in men and women of European descent (but especially women). Any podiatric surgeon will tell you that he/she has treated bunions in multiple generations of the same family - usually mothers and daughters.
Our feet are designed to carry our body weight evenly across all planes of the foot. When we inherit the faulty biomechanics which lead to a bunion, and then stuff our feet into high heels and other shoes which don't support our feet correctly, a bad situation gets even worse. Shoes with heels shift our body weight onto the front of the foot, placing stress on an already weakened joint. Other factors which may contribute to bunions are obesity, spending lots of time on hard surfaces (like factory floors), jobs that demand a lot of time on your feet, and hormonal changes.
What you see protruding from the side of your foot is a deformity of the joint at the base of the toe. The first metatarsal bone (the longest bone in the foot) has turned outward and the big toe has been pulled toward the other toes, causing the head of the metatarsal to protrude. As footwear rubs against this area, or body weight is shifted onto this joint via shoes with heels, the bursa which cushions and protects the joint becomes inflamed and sore, and the joint becomes stiff. The misalignment and compromised foot structure also causes pain on the side of your foot or in your arch, and pain and discomfort in the adjacent toes.
Unfortunately, a bunion is a progressive condition, which means it won't get better on its own. The longer you wait to treat the bunion, the worse it will become. There are stretching exercises and other therapies you can use to reduce the pain and progression of the bunion, but the only way to restore your foot to its pre-bunion condition is with bunion surgery.
The faulty biomechanics that cause a bunion also contribute to other foot conditions as well, such as hammer toes, overlapping toes, corns, and ingrown toenails.
Many of our podiatry patients remark on how thick their toenails become as they enter (and pass) middle age. Their toenails become notably tougher to trim, which makes the possibility of cuts to the skin around the nails a real possibility. Thickened toenails also splinter easily.
[caption id="attachment_4884" align="alignleft" width="300"] Toenails thicken due to aging, but other factors may also be at play.[/caption]
Unfortunately, thickening toenails are a by-product of aging, in most cases. As we age, our toenails - and fingernails - slow their growth rate, and the nails thicken because the nail cells, called onychocytes, sort of pile up. Fingernails appear to thicken less, probably because we tend to them more often with filing and buffing, which thins them.
But in addition to this natural thickening of the nails, other factors may be at play also. Among them are trauma, fungal infections, and impaired circulation. Feet are under constant stress from falling objects, stubbing injuries, poor foowear, closed-in footwear, and athletic activities. All of these conditions can alter the cells from which the nails grow, and if one tends to stub or injure the same toe, the nail plate can easily become thickened or disfigured.
Peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D., a vascular disease which restricts blood flow to the extremities, can also cause thickened, brittle toenails. Fungus also plays a key role, as it thrives in the moist, dark interior of a shoe. Besides causing the toenail to thicken, a fungal infection may also cause the nail to yellow, become brittle, separate from the nail bed, and possibly emit a foul odor. In this case, your podiatrist may recommend trimming and cleaning (debridement) the toenail, a prescription topical creme or prescription oral medicine.
**If you're diabetic, have peripheral arterial disease, or have diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a podiatrist should trim your toenails. Patients with these conditions frequently have a loss of sensation in the toes, and run the risk of wounding the skin or cutting too deeply when trimming the nails.
Besides debridement, there are few treatment options to alleviate the thickening of toenails due to the natural course of aging. If however, your toenails are thickening due to one of the other causes mentioned above, your podiatrist will discuss a course of treatment with you.
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