Here are some quick tips to help you get rid of your foot and ankle pain fast no matter what the cause. These concepts are simple, but not easy. It will take time and some adjustment on your part, but it’s worth the investment.
Avoid restrictive footwear
Footwear is a primary reason many people develop foot issues during their lifetime. Many factors go into this including heel height, shoe width, and level of cushion. Most shoes have heels that are higher than the front of the foot which contributes to shortening of the posterior, lower leg muscles. This happens gradually over time, but considering most of us have been wearing shoes the majority of the time since we were young, it is an extremely common occurrence. The loss of flexibility in these muscles contributes to abnormal gait (walking) patterns and limits your ability to properly disperse forces throughout the foot and ankle when squatting or running. Similar to the padded heel, shoes that are too narrow can also negatively impact the shape and function of the foot over time. The wider the front of the foot the better you are able to grasp the ground for balance and disperse forces across a wider surface area. Despite commonly being seen as a hereditary condition, bunions are actually caused by improperly sized footwear leading to the great toe collapsing inward over time. This can be associated with increased pronation, decreased balance, and pain that may lead to surgery.
Next time you try on a pair of shoes, take out the shoe liner and stand with your foot on top of it, if any part of your toes hangs over the liner it is too small for you and will not give your feet adequate room to spread naturally. While also taking into account the other two modifications on this list, sometimes you may have to spend long periods of time on concrete or hard surfaces. In this scenario your feet will be placed under a large amount of stress throughout the day and considering many people don’t have adequate strength of these small muscles, this can lead to pain over time. Having extra cushion on the bottom of your shoes in this scenario can be helpful and there are many brands that have a nice amount of cushion while also not elevating the heel. Trying to add in some foot strengthening exercises such as discussed earlier will also help to buffer some of these forces throughout the day and make your feet more resilient. A transition back to minimal footwear should be taken gradually to allow for time for the body to adapt to new movement patterns.
Spend more time barefoot
While many people may have been told to avoid going barefoot when experiencing foot problems, this advice can be counterproductive as it does not address the reason why you are having pain. Outside of some rare issues everyone should be able to comfortably stand and walk around barefoot, especially at home. Many foot issues stem from inadequate strength and mobility of the small muscles in the foot – this happens because when you wear very supportive, cushioned shoes all the time the muscles don’t have to stabilize anymore and atrophy (break down), think “use it or lose it”. You can begin with just walking around the house barefoot for an hour or two a day and build up from there, remember it has taken years for these muscles to weaken so you don’t want to go completely barefoot right away or you will get sore.
Just move more
Movement variability is a key theme with any kind of orthopedic issue and the foot/ankle is no different. Any time you spend too long in a position you will be stressing certain soft tissue and musculature while others become inactive. Your body will adapt to the positions and forces it spends the most time in such as if you spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer you tend to adopt that “slouched” posture. Too much time standing on your feet can place a lot of force through the foot and ankles and contribute to overuse issues. Spending too much time sitting or in restrictive, poorly designed footwear can result in tightening of the muscles in the back of the lower legs over time and lead to improper mechanics when walking and participating in activity. The more you can switch positions throughout the course of the day, the better your body will be able to distribute forces and maintain healthy levels of flexibility.