Lifestyle Changes to Manage Foot Pain
A number of lifestyle changes and self-care measures will help you relieve foot pain and prevent further damage to your feet. If you have trouble seeing and reaching your feet due to vision problems, paralysis,
General Guidelines for Managing Foot Pain
Wear Comfortable Shoes
In general, the best shoes are well-cushioned and have a leather upper, stiff heel counter, and flexible area at the ball of the foot. The heel area should be strong and supportive, but not too stiff, and the front of the shoe should be flexible. New shoes should feel comfortable right away, without a breaking in period. There should be plenty of room for all five toes.
Getting the Correct Fit
The best way to prevent nearly all foot problems is to choose well-fitted shoes with a firm sole and soft upper. You should purchase them in the afternoon or after a long walk, when feet are at their largest size. There should be 1/2 inch of space between your largest toe and the tip of the shoe, and the toes should be able to wiggle upward. You should stand when being measured, and both feet should be sized, with shoes bought for the larger foot. It is important to wear the same socks you would regularly wear with the new shoes.
Ideally, your shoes should have removable insoles (See below: Insoles
High heels are the major cause of foot problems in women. If you insist on wearing high heels, you should at least look for shoes with wide toe room, reinforced heels that are relatively wide, and cushioned insoles. You should also keep the amount of time you spend wearing high heels to a minimum.
The way shoes are laced can be important for preventing specific problems. Laces should always be loosened before putting shoes on. If you have narrow feet, you should buy shoes with eyelets farther away from the tongue than people with wider feet. This makes for a tighter fit for narrower feet and a looser fit for wider feet. If, after tying the shoe, less than an inch of tongue shows, then the shoes are probably too wide. Tightness should be adjusted both at the top of the shoe and at the bottom. When high arches cause pain, eyelets should be skipped to relieve pressure.
Breaking In and Wearing Shoes
If your shoes require breaking in, place moleskin pads next to areas on your skin where friction is likely to occur. Once a blister occurs, moleskin is not as effective. Then you must cover the blistered area with gauze or a Vaseline dressing, and then apply the moleskin over the protective covering. You should change shoes during the day. As soon as the heels show noticeable wear, replace the shoes or heels.
Special Purpose Footwear
Try to avoid extreme variations between your exercise, street, and dress shoes.
Exercise and Sports —The shoes you wear for exercise should be specifically designed for your preferred sport. For instance, a running shoe should cushion your forefoot, while tennis shoes should emphasize ankle support. Buy your shoes at a store with knowledgeable sales people. Your athletic socks are almost as important as your shoes. Experts often recommend padded acrylic socks.
Occupational Footwear —A number of occupations are hard on the feet. If you are in a high-risk job, be sure your footwear is protective. For example, nonelectric workers at risk for falling or rolling objects or punctures should wear shoes with steel toes and possibly other metal foot guards. Electric workers should wear footgear with no metal parts (or insulated steel toes) and rubber soles and heels. Chemical workers should wear shoes made of synthetics or rubber, not leather.
An insole is a flat cushioned insert that is placed inside the shoe. Insoles are designed to reduce shock, provide support for your heels and arches, and absorb moisture and odor. People respond very differently to specific insoles. What works for one person may not work for you. The thickness of your socks must be considered when purchasing insoles. You do not want insoles to squeeze your toes up against your shoes.
Purchasing Insoles —Insoles can be purchased in athletic and drug stores. Shoe stores that specialize in foot problems often sell customized, but more expensive, insoles. In general, over-the-counter insoles offer enough support for most people's foot problems. Most well-known brands of athletic shoes have built-in insoles.
Heel Cushions for Shortened Achilles Tendons —If you have developed short, tightened Achilles tendons (often caused by wearing high heels for prolonged periods), you should consider using heel cushions. Like insoles, heel cushions are inserted inside your shoes. They should be at least 1/8 inch, but not more than 1/4 inch, thick; however, you should also stretch the posterior calf muscles and tendons to prevent further shortening.
Prevent Foot Disorders in Diabetes
Foot care is critical for people with diabetes who are at risk for foot infections that can result in amputation. Half to ¾ of amputations can be prevented with diligent foot care.
Tips for preventing foot problems:
- Inspect your feet daily and watch for changes in color, texture, and odor; also look for firm or hardened areas, which may indicate infection and potential ulcers.
- When washing your feet, the water should be warm (not hot), and your feet and areas between the toes should be thoroughly dried afterward. Check water temperature with your hand or a thermometer before stepping in.
- Apply moisturizers, but not between the toes.
- Gently pumice corns and calluses.
- Do not use medicated pads or try to shave corns or calluses by yourself.
- Trim toenails short, but not so short they can become ingrown. File the edges to avoid cutting adjacent toes.
- Avoid high heels, sandals, thongs, and going barefoot.
- Change your shoes often during the day.
- Wear socks, particularly with extra padding.
- Avoid tight stockings or any clothing that constricts your legs and feet.
- If foot pain, numbness, or tingling is worse at night, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help.
- Consult a specialist in foot care for any problems.
Care for Your Toenails
Toenails should be trimmed short and straight across. Filing should also be straight across using a single movement, lifting the file before the next stroke. The file should not saw back and forth. A cuticle stick can be used to clean under the nail.
Care for Corns and Calluses
To relieve the discomfort of corns and calluses:
- Do not wear shoes that are too tight or too loose. Wear well-padded shoes with open toes or a deep toe box (the part of the shoe that surrounds the toes). If necessary, have a cobbler stretch the shoes in the area where the corn or callus is located.
- Wear thick socks to absorb pressure, but do not wear tight socks or stockings.
- Apply petroleum jelly or lanolin hand cream to corns or calluses to soften them.
- Use doughnut-shaped pads that fit over a corn and decrease pressure and friction. These are available at most drug stores.
- Place cotton, lamb's wool, or moleskin between the toes to cushion any corns in these areas.
Walk and Exercise Correctly
In addition to wearing proper shoes and socks, you should also walk correctly to prevent foot injury and pain. Your head should be erect, your back straight, and your arms relaxed and swinging freely at your sides. You should step out on your heel, move forward with the weight on the outside of your foot, and complete the step by pushing off the big toe.
American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/home.jsp .
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society website. Available at: http://www.aofas.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1 .
American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.apma.org/s_apma/index.asp .
National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/ .
Last reviewed April 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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