It’s fair bet that over the course of a lifetime your feet will carry you about 100,000 miles. In rough terms, that’s two laps of the equator and four pole-to-pole trips.
That’s a lot of punishment for a part of the body that many people take for granted. We get our teeth checked twice a year, our eyes once a year and even a big high-tech diesel car needs a service every 20,000 miles or so. But by and large we just expect our feet to get on with it. And that’s because they do their job so well, for so much of the time.
It’s a fact of life that as the Americans say “It’s the squeaky gate that gets the oil.” Generally, we neglect our feet because they are so reliable. But while the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” contains an element of truth, there is no harm in a bit of preventative maintenance.
And why not? Feet are complex things: flexible structures of bones, joints, muscles and soft tissues packed into a confined space. They adjust to allow all the complex movements we take for granted such as running, jumping, walking, dancing and standing on tip-toe.
But when something goes wrong, through injury, infection or just plain old wear and tear, it’s that very complexity that begins to make life difficult for us. What’s more, feet for many are the key to fitness. Just ten thousand steps a day is now recognised as being as beneficial to health as a rigidly prescribed health club fitness program. We are supposed and designed to walk as a species. It is literally in our DNA. Once you lose your ability to move freely, one slips from the benefits of a virtuous cycle of exercise and good health into what can be a nasty downward spiral.
So what can go wrong? Well petty much anything. Take your pick from some of the most common including: plantar fasciitis (painful inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament), osteoarthritis, gout (although this condition can appear all over the body), bunions, callouses, corns, toenail problems, fungal infections, collapsed arches, hammer toes, diabetic foot infections, fractures, viral warts and the delightfully named Morton’s neuroma. Most of these nasty little jokes of Mother Nature’s are debilitating and many are extremely painful.
While our feet are highly complex bits of biological engineering and can fall prey to a wide range of problems, the programme of preventative care is simple and largely common sense. The trick is to remember to look after your feet while they are fit and healthy, which is easier and simpler than trying to nurse them back to a good condition.
This is particularly important for diabetics for whom regular exercise and staying trim can be a vital part of an ongoing regime of health management.
The first place to start is with shoes. And this is no matter of sexual equality. The dictates of fashion are responsible for many severe foot problems among women. Ultra-high heels throw the wearer’s weight forward on to the toes, causing deformity and nerve damage. Stilettos cause all of the weight on the back of the foot to balance on a single point like a glorified stilt – the most typical injuries that result are ankle sprains. Nor are completely flat shoes the answer. Ballet pumps are as comfortable as walking on compacted cardboard and offer no arch support. Flip-flops have the same problem and can aggravate plantar fasciitis. This in turn causes problems right up the skeleton with pain in the knees, hips and back. Flip-flops also present a serious problem for diabetics because they offer no protection to the feet and even simple cuts and scrapes can lead to serious infections.
Platform shoes and wedges do the wearer little favour, because their inflexible nature prevents the foot from forming an anatomically correct shape while walking.
Shoes with pointed ends have crossed the gender gap and are now fashionable for both sexes but as a common sense rule, any shoe that isn’t the same shape as your feet (and we assume that your feet don’t close to a point) will cause pain, aggravation and deformity.
Men (particularly those of us of a certain age) get something a of a free pass in this matter. As a generalisation, they tend to buy shoes first and foremost because they are comfortable. However clinging loyally to an old and much loved pair of shoes (however comfortable they once were) can be ill-advised. Over time, even quality shoes lose their shock-absorbing ability and let your feet take the strain instead. Old trainers and running shoes are especially prone to this sort of fatigue and can do far more harm than good.
Away from the influence of fashion, sensible shoes may not look cool. But neither do deformed feet – and if you are going to get 100,000 miles out of your pedal extremities, you’d better look after them.
So what are the golden rules for being kind to your feet, beyond not torturing them in ill-fitting shoes?
- First of all keep them clean. Just simple soap and, water will remove dirt from the skin and stop friction problems and consequent orientation and infection.
- A nice fat fluffy towel to dry them off will keep fungal infection and athlete’s foot at bay.
- Declare war on hard skin. A pumice stone or one of those files that looks a bit like a Parmesan grater will keep the dead skin off your feet. Bear in mind that callouses don’t just appear by accident. If your getting them, the chances are that your shoes don’t fit properly, so fix that problem too.
- Keep your toenails trimmed (in a straight line please) to avoid the complication (and pain) of ingrowing toenails.
- Change your socks daily top avoid potential infection. And if you have poor circulation, try and avoid the modern trend for elasticated socks that grip your legs like a mantrap and leave indentations in your skin. Cushioned sole socks with soft ops will give your feet the proverbial armchair ride.
- And finally for those who are finding t difficult to get down to the business end of your legs and carry out all of this remedial work: it’s OK to go and see a foot car professional and get your feet an MOT.
Be nice to your feet – it will probably be the best investment in time and money you will ever make.