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Feet: don’t fail me now

A three-inch heel stresses your foot seven times more than a one-inch heel. Exceedingly high heels can lead to hammer toes, bunions, pump bump and pinched nerves

February 14, 2012 | By:

By the time we reach 50, we have walked around 75,000 miles. Daniela Soave explains how a lifetime of wear affects our feet and what to do to keep feet fabulous

Feet sillhouette by How Soon Ngu on Unsplash_620

Best foot forward: but check your shoe sizing, as feet get longer and wider as we age

It’s not surprising that somewhere between our late forties and early fifties, many of us notice that there’s less of a spring in our step, and our feet feel a little tired or painful. We have walked around 75,000 miles by the time we reach our half-century.

Consider this. Would you drive your car for 75,000 miles without having it regularly serviced? Our feet are our body’s shock absorbers, our tyres, yet we fail to give them the care they deserve. As we age, they are in even more need of TLC. If you start looking after them now, you can avoid many problems in the future.

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Just like the rest of our body, we begin to lose flexibility and elasticity in our feet as we age. By the time we reach our mid-forties, joint tissues stiffen and the natural fat padding that cushions our weight decreases. For some people, the arch under the foot begins to collapse because the ligaments are looser, and this leads to pain in the arch and heel.

Our feet also change shape, becoming longer and wider, which means we need to be measured when we buy new shoes rather than automatically asking for the usual size.

Blood circulation decreases, adding to the loss of cushioning and making our skin become thinner and drier. This means we are more at risk of developing cracks in our heels, and other superficial injuries, which will heal more slowly because of decreased circulation.

Can you feel the force?

Add to this the fact that we are probably heavier now than we were in our twenties. The force on our feet is about 120 per cent of our weight, so if you are overweight this is putting a lot of stress on all the supporting structures of your feet.

There’s more: around this time, our joints can become arthritic as cartilage wears out, so our bones don’t glide against one another as smoothly. The joints become stiff and painful. We then walk differently, which puts abnormal stress on other parts of the foot.

Observe, when you walk, if you tilt your foot one way or the other. Look at how the heels on your shoes wear down, and if they’re sloped, there’s your answer. If you do, the cartilage in the ankle degenerates, causing you to pronate (tilt your foot) more. This further stresses the cartilage. This will then affect your knee joint, leading to hip, pelvis and lower back stresses.

Flat feet or high arches also put feet at risk. A flat foot causes muscles and tendons to stretch and weaken, while a high arch has little shock absorption, putting more pressure on the ball and heel of the foot.

So you can see why it makes sense to look after your feet.

Start by finding a decent podiatrist and commit to going twice a year. He or she will be able to assess the state of your feet and offer solutions for potential problems.

Next, cut your feet some slack. I’m not suggesting that you ladies kiss goodbye to your Louboutins, but try not to wear high heels all the time. A three-inch heel, for instance, stresses your foot seven times more than a one-inch heel. Exceedingly high heels – as favoured by Victoria Beckham – can lead to hammer toes, bunions, pump bump (a painful lump on the back of the heel), neuromas (pinched nerves near the ball of the foot), and toenail problems.

So, try to keep your highest heels for best, and for everyday wear choose heels that are less than two-and-a-half inches high. If you can, try not to wear the same pair for days in a row.

There is an added incentive: ill-fitting or uncomfortable shoes result in wrinkles on your face, as we unconsciously grimace with the pain. So there you go – wearing a more comfortable shoe is like getting a facelift without the surgery!

Incorporate your feet into your moisturising regime – men too. Even better, if you can get into the habit of bathing your feet every evening, drying well between the toes, and then moisturising, you will notice a visible difference.

Exercises for the feet

Walking is the best exercise for your feet, as long as you are wearing well-fitting shoes. But there are many other exercises that address potential feet and related problems. Try incorporating some of the following into your daily routine:

  • Toe curls: pick up objects with your toes and move them from one pile to another.
  • Toe presses: stand up straight, then rise up on your toes by lifting your heels off the ground.
  • Ankle strengtheners: make circles with your ankles, one way first, then the other. Do ankle pumps by moving your foot up and down.
  • Calf strengtheners: roll the bottom of your foot on a small ball (tennis or golf balls are ideal) or a bottle of frozen water.  Or, standing, place your toes on a thick book and your heels on the floor. Or lift the toes and place them against the wall, keeping the rest of the foot and the heels on the floor.
  • Achilles stretch: lean against a wall, palms flat against it, one foot forward, one foot back. Lean forward, keeping your heels on the floor, and feel the stretch in your Achilles tendon and calf. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat three times.