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Healthy Feet: Why They Matter for the Rest of Your Body

Healthy Feet: Why They Matter for the Rest of Your Body

Did you know that fully a quarter of your body’s bones are in your feet? These complex marvels of engineering by Mother Nature provide your body with a firm foundation, and are constantly in demand to help move the body from one place to another. With 19 muscles and 26 bones each, your feet are important for the balance and health of the entire body.

Dr. Brian Jensen, a chiropractor, offers this perspective: “By age 20, an estimated 80 percent of people develop some type of foot imbalance. By age 40, foot imbalances plague virtually everyone.” If the foundation is out of balance, then the rest of the structure (the body) is thrown out of balance. Invariably, this means the ankles, knees, hips and spine are adversely affected. A misaligned spine can cause chronic pain and can increase the risk of other musculoskeletal problems.

One key way the feet can cause spinal problems is by causing an imbalance in your gait—the way you walk. If your stride is off a little, it can eventually cause the supporting structures of your spine to be subject to stress in the wrong places, eventually pulling your spine out of alignment. According to Dr. Jenson, collapsed arches (“over-pronation”) are the most common source of problems with the feet, causing them to roll inward as an individual walks. Excessive supination (“under-pronation” or the foot rolling to the outside) is the opposite problem.

Both over-pronation and under-pronation often leave telltale signs in the uneven way a person’s shoes wear over time. Typically, a shoe’s heel or sole will become noticeably more worn on either the inside or outside edge. Some pronation is normal, but when both feet pronate too much and for too long a period, then your musculoskeletal health is at risk.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of two other health problems involving the feet—obesity and diabetes. Carrying lots of extra weight obviously increases the wear and tear on your body’s joints and is particularly hard on the feet. Diabetes can affect circulation as well as the peripheral nervous system—especially in the extremities—making it more difficult to walk and more difficult to heal after injuries. Both of these conditions set up a vicious cycle where pain and dysfunction often lead to reduced mobility, which in turn often leads to additional weight gain and diabetic symptoms.

Depending on your particular situation, your chiropractor can assist you in finding the proper orthotics for your feet to help correct these kinds of mechanical issues and increase the amount of healthy cushion for absorbing the shock of walking.

And remember—the condition of each foot can change over time, so visit your chiropractor regularly to see if you need special insoles to protect your feet, ankles, knees, hips and spine.

Women’s Feet Are Paying a High Price for Fashion

Women’s Feet Are Paying a High Price for Fashion


Fashion before comfort… and health! That seems to be a prevailing attitude in the United States, particularly among women out shopping for new shoes. And while there are a number of shoe styles that can cause foot problems, the high heel (especially the ultra-high heel) is by far the biggest culprit. According the American Podiatric Medical Association:

  • 72% of women wear high-heeled shoes (39% wear heels daily, while 33% wear them less often).
  • 59% report toe pain as a result of wearing uncomfortable shoes; 54% report pain in the ball of the foot.
  • 58% of women purchased new high-heeled shoes in the last year.
  • Younger women are more likely to experience blisters and pain in the arches of their feet than older women. Older women are more likely to experience corns, calluses, and bunions.

Ultra high-heels have many podiatrists concerned: According to Hillary Brenner, DPM, a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, “Heels are getting higher and higher,” she says. “We podiatrists like to call it shoe-icide.” Ultra-high heels often result in an array of injuries, short- and long-term, from ankle sprains to chronic pain and many issues in-between.

“Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot,” continues Brenner. “At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.”

However, heels in general, whether they’re stilettos or mid-heels, are hobbling women all around the country. High heels are known for producing a tender knot on the back of the heel, called the “pump bump” by some. This is a result of the pressure from the stiff, unyielding high-heel on the back of the foot. Blisters, swelling, bursitis, and even discomfort in the Achilles tendon can follow.

Additionally, all high heels increase the danger of an ankle sprain. The issue most seen by podiatrists is a lateral sprain, which occurs when a walker rolls onto the outside of their foot, stretching the ankle ligaments beyond their usual length. A serious sprain may even tear the ligaments and increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

In podiatrists’ and other medical professionals’ offices across the country, women are presenting with mild to severe foot problems due to wearing the wrong shoes. Other shoes that can cause foot pain and other issues include:

  • Ballet flats, which provide no support whatsoever.
  • Flip-flops, which provide almost no protection from splinters and other injuries.
  • Platform shoes, which often have rigid foot beds, putting unnecessary pressure on the foot.
  • Pointy-toed shoes, which can result in nerve pain, bunions, blisters, and hammertoes.

So what can a woman do to stay fashionable and keep her feet healthy and pain-free? For those who love high heels, consider performance pumps, which most often come with reinforced heels, athletic shoe construction, and more wiggle room for the toes.

Another solution for the pump enthusiast is a chunky-heeled shoe. Chunky heels allow better balance with a wider surface area, which gives the foot much more stability thereby diminishing the risk of ankle sprains.

For other shoes such as ballet flats, orthotic inserts can offer the support that the shoes lack. If you’re unsure about what kind of insert is best for your feet, talk to your podiatrist to get an informed opinion on how to best take care of your feet—and look good doing it.


Use it or Lose it: Five Tips for Maintaining Your Sense of Balance Beyond Middle Age

Use it or Lose it: Five Tips for Maintaining Your Sense of Balance Beyond Middle Age

yoga on the natureIf you are middle-aged (40-60, by some definitions) or older, here’s 15-second self-test for you. Do you often find yourself needing to sit down or steady yourself against a table when putting on your shoes or stepping into pants? Do you increasingly need to use the armrests of your chair to “push off” when getting up? Do you generally hold on to handrails whenever you go up and down stairs? If you stand with your feet close together, do you feel unsteady and unable to balance yourself properly?

If you’ve answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you might want to start giving a little bit of thought to your sense of balance, and how important it is to you. It’s easy to take good balance for granted—most people don’t give it a first or second thought until after they’ve experienced a fall. However, the behaviors we asked about in our self-test are actually “early warning signs” that your sense of balance may be starting to deteriorate. Your balance is controlled by an area of the brain called the cerebellum, which works in coordination with your vestibular (inner ear) system, your visual system (your eyes, and their ability to perceive whether you are standing upright), and your proprioceptive system (your body’s sense of position in space).

All of these systems begin to deteriorate once you pass the age of 40, as do the muscles they control. Worse still, this process of deterioration can become accelerated if you lead a sedentary lifestyle (which growing numbers of Americans do). And although you might not think of balance as a health issue, falling is the leading cause of injury for people over the age of 65. In the U.S., someone from this age group is treated in an emergency room for injuries resulting from a fall every 17 seconds.

So how do you improve your sense of balance, and protect yourself from dangerous falls? Simple—use it! Balance is to some extent a learned skill, so if you practice a few simple exercises that isolate these components of balance, you can actually make your sense of balance better. Experts on aging suggest performing a few exercises to improve your balance each day, starting in middle age, before the systems that control your balance have begun to deteriorate.

For example, just avoiding the use of handrails on stairs or the poles in buses and subway cars forces your body to work harder to maintain its balance, improving reflexes, increasing coordination and strengthening your muscles. Other exercises you can perform include creating an unstable surface at home (such as a board placed on wobbly pillows) and then practicing standing on it with one foot, or improving your coordination by standing on one leg with the opposite arm extended and then swinging the other leg back and forth. Office workers can improve their balance—and get a refreshing break at the same time—by practicing getting up from their chairs ten times in a row without using their hands. Each of these simple movements shifts your center of gravity, causes your muscles to react to changing positions, and improves your balance.

Just walking in a small circle around your living room or your backyard can be good for your balance, because walking along a curve is more difficult than walking in a straight line. When you’re out for a walk, try to choose uneven surfaces rather than smooth pavement because this also exercises the muscles in your back and legs that are essential for good balance. Or place cones or other objects in a line on the floor in front of you and then weave between them while walking. You can strengthen your hips, which are very important for balance, by holding on to a table or a kitchen counter and then swinging one leg forward, to the side, to the back, and then up to your chest with your knee bent. Do this ten times, and then switch to the other leg and repeat. Yoga, Tai Chi, martial arts, and other forms of exercise that emphasize flexibility can also improve your balance.

So if you are concerned about protecting yourself against falls as you age, the important thing to bear in mind is the phrase “use it while you’re young, or you’ll lose it as you age.” The more healthy exercise you get in your 30s and 40s, the more healthy – and safe – you’ll be in your 60s and beyond.


Focus on Footwear: The Trouble with Flip-Flops

Focus on Footwear: The Trouble with Flip-Flops


Ask just about any chiropractor which type of footwear is the worst for your feet and back, and you’ll likely hear about two culprits: high heels and flip-flops. While high heels spell trouble for women, flip-flops are worn by men, women, teenagers, and children, making them a more ubiquitous health hazard than any other commonly worn type of footwear. So what exactly is the trouble with flip-flops? Why do chiropractors advise so strongly against wearing them? In a nutshell, flip-flops not only lack a protective shell or any sort of support, but they force wearers to walk unnaturally, causing numerous foot, leg, and back problems.

Shoes are designed to perform two basic functions. One function is to offer shock absorption; the other is to provide a solid, stable surface that your foot can push off from. Flip-flops, however, provide neither shock absorption nor stability. They are essentially just covers for the bottoms of your feet.

Flip-flop manufacturers have tried to address the issues of shock absorption and stability, with minimal success. A few of the more pricey brands offer some arch support, and some have more cushioning—but no flip-flops can compare to sneakers in terms of support and shock absorption. If your footwear cannot perform its two basic functions, you could find yourself in pain, not only in your foot but up your entire leg and into the knee, hip, and back.

Without a suitable arch or appropriate shock absorption, you are forced to walk differently, which can negatively affect the ligaments, bones, and muscles in the foot by making them work harder than they are used to. Overuse can even result in stress fractures in the bones of the feet.

Flip-flop wearers must walk abnormally in order to keep their flip-flops on. A study conducted by Auburn University found that the average flip-flop wearer takes shorter steps than those who wear other footwear. The study also found that flip-flop wearers hit their heels to the ground with less vertical force, which throws off a person’s natural gait and can cause pain and other issues in the feet, ankle, legs, hips, and back.

All flip-flops come with a small strip of material that the toes must grip in order to keep the footwear in place. This repetitive gripping causes muscle overuse and can result in tendonitis, a painful condition wherein tendons become inflamed. Regular use of flip-flops can also cause or exacerbate bunions and hammer toe. Other flip-flop related maladies include plantar fasciitis, splinters, blisters, and burns due to flip-flops’ lack of protection.

Lastly, flip-flops are a breeding ground for bacteria—sometimes dangerous types. In fact, a 2009 study from the University of Miami found that even just one pair of flip-flops can contain over 18,000 bacteria, including Staphylococcus and bacteria from fecal matter.

If you feel you must wear flip-flops, consider asking your chiropractor for recommendations on which brands to look at. Additionally, you should wear them sporadically and avoid wearing them on any days on which you will be doing a lot of walking. There are other sandals that are better for your feet, so consider them as an alternative to flip-flops.


Tips for Working on Your Feet All Day

Tips for Working on Your Feet All Day

centre commercialQuite a few jobs require you to be on your feet all day. Cashiers, flight attendants, nurses, restaurant workers and retail salespeople-to name just a few-must spend long hours on their feet with little time for a break. This can cause a range of problems, including low back pain, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, sore feet, swollen ankles and bunions. Following are a few tips to help keep you comfortable while you are on your feet.

Wear good, sturdy shoes – Not every profession allows for comfy athletic shoes to be worn, but you can still buy shoes that look professional, are sturdy and fit well. Avoid shoes that have narrow toes and high heels. A one- or two-inch heel should be the maximum. Some shoe companies specialize in shoes made for comfort that absorb shock and provide adequate arch support. Your shoes should be neither too large nor too small for your feet, but err on the side of slightly larger if you are in doubt, since feet tend to swell the longer you stand. You should also change the shoes you wear every other day so pressure is put on slightly different areas of your feet each day.

Consider using insoles, arch supports or special orthotics – Figure these into the size of the shoes you buy. In fact, take your insoles or orthotics with you when shopping for shoes to be sure the shoes fit well with them inserted. A properly supported foot will help correct problems such as overpronation (the foot rolling inwards) or flat feet (lack of sufficient arches) that contribute to pain in the feet, knees, hips and lower back.

Choose your socks carefully – Choose socks that will wick moisture from your feet. You can also find socks that are specifically made to reduce friction, with extra cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot. If you can, wear compression socks that go all the way to the knee. The light compression these socks provide can help reduce swelling in your lower legs.

Soften the floor surface if possible – If you tend to stand in a fixed spot every day, bring in a small carpet or padded mat to stand on. Any kind of softer surface you can put between your feet and concrete floors will help to reduce the impact on your feet.
Do simple leg exercises – From time to time, rise up and down on the balls of your feet to help increase the circulation in your lower legs. Another good move is to stretch your calf muscles. Lunge forward with one leg while keeping the heel of the other flat on the floor. This will help keep your calf muscles from becoming too tight, which increases your risk of plantar fasciitis.