How To Look After Your Feet To Take Care of Other Joints – Flexiseq

How To Look After Your Feet To Take Care of Other Joints

Our feet do a lot for us. These often overlooked workers contain 33 joints, 26 bones and more than a hundred  muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Taking care of your feet can reduce pain, discomfort and improve confidence and mobility - as well as ward off the risk of arthritis in the knees, hips, ankles, heels and toes. Read on to find out how you can take care of your feet to help alleviate pressure on other joints.

How taking care of your feet can help support your joints

“Every step subjects your feet to over 1000 pounds in force,” says Dr Deborah Lee, from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. “If your feet hurt and you can’t move properly this greatly affects your quality of life.”

The gait cycle refers to the repetitive motion that people make when they walk. It covers all stages from when the foot leaves the ground, when it is in the air and when it is placed back down. Ankles, knees and hips all work together when a person takes a step, and they all affect each other. Osteoarthritis can negatively impact any joint including the hip, knee and ankle joints, which can limit your range of mobility and affect how you walk.

Taking care of your feet and making sure you are wearing comfortable, secure footwear can help take some of the pressure off your other joints. “Think about what happens when you squeeze your feet into narrow pointed shoes with a high heel,” Dr Lee says. “Your toes are squished together, and your weight is pitched forward, putting too much pressure on the balls of the feet and the metatarsals. It also causes your knees and hips to extend forward but your spine to arch backwards, meaning all these joints are out of their normal alignment.”

What are flat feet and what do they mean for your long term health?

The arch on your foot acts as a natural shock absorber, helping to distribute the force that impacts your feet when you walk, run or do other weight bearing activities. 

“Flat feet affect 1 in 4 of the UK population, so it is surprisingly common,” says Dr Lee. “The term ‘flat feet’ means the foot arch is flattened and the foot lies closer to the floor. With flat feet, the feet tend to turn inwards, causing abnormal pressure at the knee joint. The knee joint is directly connected with the hip joint. This means that the abnormal pressure at the knee has a knock-on effect to cause internal rotation of the pelvis - this is the movement that happens when you twist your thigh inwards. This then causes hyperextension of the spine and instability.”

Symptoms of flat feet can include: foot pain; strained foot muscles; extra stress on the foot or hip; swelling; an uneven distribution of body weight which can wear down shoes more quickly; and potential injuries or difficulties when walking or running. If you have any concerns about your feet, speak to your doctor or get a referral for a chiropodist or podiatrist.

What kind of shoes should I be wearing to help take care of my joints?

Your shoes should comfortably support and protect your feet to allow for natural movement when you’re walking. “Poor foot care causes poor foot health,” says Dr Lee. “Wearing tight, high-heeled or inappropriate footwear and walking with an abnormal gait puts abnormal forces and pressures not just on the feet, but also on the joints of the ankle, knee, hip and spine.” 

Ill-fitting shoes can become painful very quickly, make you unsteady and imbalanced on your feet, as well as potentially leading to foot problems like bunions and ingrown toenails.

When you’re buying a new pair of shoes, look out for:

  • Strong or breathable material on the upper part of the shoe, depending on your needs.
  • Material that will keep your feet warm in cold weather.
  • Shoes specifically designed with arch support, if you have flat feet. Such as barefoot shoes 
  • A deep and roomy toe box (the front of the shoe) to avoid putting pressure on the toes and joints. 
  • A cushioned and flexible rubber sole with good grip.
  • If you’re going to wear heels, aim for no more than 2 inches and try to wear wide heels to evenly distribute the weight. 
  • Laces, velcro, buckles or zippers which can keep the shoe securely on your foot while remaining comfortable. 

When buying shoes, try to avoid:

  • Shoes that are too big or too small.
  • High heels, especially ones with a skinny tall heel.
  • Slip on shoes and shoes without backs.
  • Flat shoes like sandals or pumps. They don’t support your feet and encourage unnatural positioning. Instead, opt for wide, comfortable shoes with a small, wide heel.
  • Smooth leather or plastic soles.
  • Thick rubber soles over the toe.
  • Don’t wear the same shoes every day, and buy new shoes often.
  • Slippers should be worn for short periods of time - not all day.

 What exercises can help strengthen foot muscles?

  • If you have flat feet, rolling a golf ball backwards and forwards under the arch of the foot can help stretch the plantar fascia ligament, which is a long, thin ligament which lies under the skin on the bottom of your foot.
  • Stretch your legs, feet and toes every day.
  • Try pushing an object along the floor with the tiptoes on one of your feet, and then switch.
  • Practise going onto your tiptoes, holding there for a moment and then going back down. Repeat up to 20 times.
  • Sit on a chair and put a towel on the floor under your feet. Practice scrunching up the towel with your toes.
  • When standing, practice lifting both big toes, then replacing the big toe and lifting the other 4 toes. This requires rolling your feet inwards and outwards.
  • Tai chi, yoga and pilates can all help with balance and core strength.
  • Soak your feet in a warm bath with epsom salts for 15-20 minutes to relax the muscles and ease pain.

When to speak to a chiropodist or podiatrist

“Anyone with foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain should consider gait analysis,” says Dr Lee. “Gait analysis is a way of analysing how your body biomechanics are working when you walk and run. During gait analysis, the specialists will look at your stride length, stride width, step length and foot angle. They may have practical advice such as shortening your stride or changing your head position.”

Everyone’s feet hurt a little after a long day, but if your feet are continuously hurting without any obvious cause, or if you feel unsteady on your feet or feel like there is something wrong with how you’re standing or walking then you may want to speak to a chiropodist (a specialist focused on disorders of the foot, ankle and lower limb) or a podiatrist (a specialist who treats disorders of the foot, ankle, and related structures of the leg).

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