Healthy Feet Are Happy Feet
Bunions and Heel Pain: Feet are a fascinating area of the human body but they are also one of the most underappreciated. Luckily, more people are recognizing that making foot health a priority is well worth the effort in the long run. While feet are amazingly durable, even under the harsh demands of daily life, foot problems may develop if feet are pushed over their limits.
One of the most common foot problems is heel pain. Heel pain is a result of excessively tight calves which may be due to genetics, or, research today has shown that sitting in a chair is also a contributing factor. The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is a sharp pain in the heel during the first steps in the morning.
To alleviate heel pain, the following steps are recommended:
- For acute heel pain, treat it with ice, massage, and supportive footwear.
- For chronic heel pain, stretching the tight heel cord (the back of the lower leg) and strengthening the foot are excellent treatment options. To stretch your heel cord, keep your knee straight and bend forward at the ankle.
- Always stretch after walking for a few minutes to warm up the muscles. There should never be pain or discomfort while stretching.
Heel pain may also be a result of wearing the wrong shoes. There are a few key characteristics to consider when choosing the right pair of shoes if you experience heel pain:
- Fit: Shoes should be long, wide, and have a roomy toe box. Check to see if the shoe allows your toes to move up and down with ease and look for shoe brands that offer multiple widths indicated by letters in the alphabet (i.e. C, D or E).
- Rigidity: A shoe’s rigidity means the shoe does not bend or flex easily in any direction. To test this, try bending the shoe in half and twisting the shoe like a rag. It should resist a mild effort in bending. Consider transitioning back to less support over several months to strengthen the foot.
- Comfort: Shoes should feel good immediately and should not require a break-in period. Be sure to walk in a pair of shoes for at least five minutes before purchasing.
Another common foot problem is bunions. Unlike heel pain, bunions are more closely related to inherited traits rather than lifestyle habits such as wearing tight shoes. The degree of forefoot flexibility is the principle trait that is inherited. Bunions have two main components: a bump on the side of the great toe joint and turning of the great toe to the lesser toes. This joint is painful to move and also suffers from painful rubbing against the shoe.
To relieve bunion pain, the following should be considered:
- Keep the toe aligned straight with a bunion splint to relieve pain from the joint.
- Wear shoes with extra width and soft material to relieve bump pain.
- If a bunion does not respond well to conservative treatment, it may require surgery to realign the toe and eliminate the bump. Be sure the motion of the foot is addressed in some way or the bunion is likely to return even after surgery. Motion can be reduced by supportive footwear or opting for surgical procedures that are designed to reduce excessive foot and ankle motion.
As you can see, feet are more than just something to put shoes on and forget about. By following these basic principles of foot care it will help keep feet healthy, strong, and pain free for years to come. Happy walking!
by: Karl Johnson, DPM & Ankle Surgeon
Karl Johnson, DPM graduated from Brigham Young University with a BS in Biology and went on to graduate from the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery at Des Moines University. After a three year podiatric surgical residency, he gained extensive experience in advanced foot and ankle reconstruction and became certified in reconstructive rearfoot/ankle surgery in 2016. Dr. Johnson is currently accepting new patients at Tri-State Podiatry.