Sports Podiatrist Emily Smith gives us an insight into why looking after your feet is so much more than just maintaining your pedi – and explains why the stakes are so high.
We all brush and floss to prevent gingivitis and cleanse and moisturise to prevent dermatitis, but when it comes to preventing plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, neuritis or arthritis – the stats show that we ought to be paying more attention to our feet! With 77% of the population plagued by foot pain in their lifetime (APMA), the prevalence is high and the complications can be catastrophic. Here’s the lowdown:
Anyone who has kicked their toe knows how debilitating foot pain can be and won’t need to be reminded how much one’s ability to move, exercise, work, sleep and play relies on their foot comfort. But when the duration of pain moves beyond days, to a few weeks, months or even years, compensations can often lead to other areas of pain to the foot as well as up the kinetic chain.
The most common self-imposed management strategy is to minimise weight bearing and/or periodically give up exercise. However, often if the injury and underlying problem are not addressed, the pain continues, or returns with exercise. Not only can unmanaged time off your feet cause muscle wasting, joint stiffness and postural changes, but it can also stimulate a vicious cycle of emotional and metabolic reactions, amplifying the physical pain and complicating the management.
When lower leg pain prevents you from enjoying your soulful walks, playing your beloved team sport, wearing your fierce stilettos, completing your daily commute, your workplace duties or your HIIT training sessions, it doesn’t take long for the emotional impact to hit.
A diminished emotional state can be directly related to the intensity and/or consistency of the pain, though can also be related to the reduced activity levels, modified job capabilities, weight gain, social isolation and footwear limitations. To top it all off, unless the injury warrants surgery, crutches, or a boot, there is often a lack of empathy, special consideration and seriousness from others.
With a moderate level of foot pain shown to increase depressive symptoms two-fold, the risk and repercussions are real. Like any chronic pain or disease, the long term mental health impact can include depression, anxiety, diminished motivation and reduced self-esteem.
Our body, and its inner workings, relies on adequate forms of exercise and movement to perform with ease. Lower limb pain is a common catalyst for weight gain due to reduced exercise capacity. Subsequently, weight gain puts more load on the foot and lower limb, with every extra 1kg of weight putting approximately 2kgs of load through the foot and knee with walking and 4kg with running, exacerbating the injury and compromising the safe return to exercise. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to the onset of Diabetes Mellitus, heart complications, high blood pressure, bone density issues and increased cholesterol.
The moral of the story
Your feet are one of your most important assets, yet their contribution to everyday function, livelihood and overall wellness is significantly under recognised. With the majority of foot injuries due to a combination of biomechanical dysfunction, poor foot support, ill-fitting footwear and training errors, raising your foot health IQ and spending a little time and monetary investment on your feet can significantly reduce the incidence and severity of foot pain.
Giving your feet some love including regular self-massage on a tennis ball and calf muscle stretches after exercise, investing in well-fitted, suitable footwear and scientific shoe insoles, applying research-based exercise principles and forming a trusted team of health professionals around you, can all help you lead a long, healthy and active life, pain-free.