Whenever I fly, most of my time is spent on reading to educate myself; still, I can’t help noticing the ubiquitous shopping catalogs provided on every flight in the seat-back pockets. There I will find everything from lava lamps to bulletproof luggage to ergonomically designed water bowls for Great Danes (seriously – they’re supposed to help prevent neck strain). Often there is an entire page devoted to a painful inflammatory foot condition called plantar fasciitis – coming across catalog ads on this subject may seem odd, until you consider how widespread this condition is.
According to the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, approximately 10 percent of the population will develop plantar fasciitis. Also, although the estimates vary widely, about 30 percent of the population will develop bunions, with women more susceptible than men. The list of potential foot problems goes on – and I saw one estimate that 75 percent of Americans will suffer from at least one type of foot problem in their lives. The question is how can you avoid becoming part of these statistics? Let’s start with shoes.
The basic problem with shoes is that they do not allow the feet to function as they would without them, and their cushioning desensitizes the nerve endings on the bottom of the feet, which can influence posture. One reason the Jamaicans tend to be superior in competitive sprinting events may be because often they grow up walking and exercising in bare feet – likewise with the Kenyans in the distance events. However, if your foot is not functioning properly, walking or running in bare feet (especially on hard surfaces) may do more harm than good.
One logical concept is to use the right shoe for the right purpose. A shoe with a lot of cushioning may make you feel and look like Michael Jordan, but in the weightroom they will create instability. A weightlifting shoe is stable and helps align the feet with the ankles and knees, and the raised heel makes it easier to perform squats because it increases the angle of the shins.
As for dress shoes, podiatrists often call wearing fashionable shoes “shoeicide,” as each type of shoe is associated with specific foot problems. Heels higher than 2 inches can create hairline fractures of the phalanges (bones of the toe), pumps can cause bursitis of the heel (aka, a “pump bump”), stilettos are instable and can easily cause ankle sprains, ballet flats and flip-flops can cause plantar fasciitis, and pointy toes can cause bunions and hammertoes. My advice to women is NOT not to wear fashionable high heel shoes but to wear them as little as possible.
There are three major arches in the foot: medial (inside of the foot), lateral (outside), and metatarsal (front). Birkenstock footwear has a large assortment of shoes that contain all three arch supports. When you buy shoes, do so later in the day, as your feet often swell a bit during the day; and try on both pairs of shoes, as one foot is often larger than the other.
If you’re having foot problems, orthotics prescribed by a podiatrist can often be valuable, but buying a cheap pair at a local pharmacy may not do you much good (or it could make your condition worse), as they are not specific to your feet and often contain only a medial arch support.
It’s a wise investment in foot health to get soft-tissue work on your feet to deal with adhesions and scar tissue – a good reflexologist often can help in this area. Also, it can be a good idea to consult a chiropractor to help restore full range of motion of the articulations of the foot. Dr. Michael Ripley, a former ART® instructor who has worked with many Olympic medalists in the sprints, says that many of the elite sprinters he worked with could not balance on their toes in bare feet for even a fraction of a second because of accumulative trauma and muscular weakness. One of Ripley’s favorite rehab exercises for these athletes is to place rubber bands around each toe and perform flexion exercises to get the toes functioning properly.
At the Poliquin Strength Institute, we have eight calf machines and one machine specifically designed to work the muscles on the front of the lower leg. I take calf training seriously because it is extremely valuable. One of the most effective exercises in this regard is the seated calf raise, which works many muscles that influence the arch of the foot.
Each year more than 60 million people visit a podiatrist. If you’re not in the habit of taking adequate care of your feet, then you might consider joining them and making an appointment for yourself.