Day in and day out, your feet do a lot for you. The little choices you make — from the shoes you wear to the activities you choose to do — can add up.
It’s easy to forget that your feet are your body’s foundation. They support your entire body and contribute to your balance, posture, spine alignment, and overall well-being.
Odds are, you take your feet for granted … until they start to give you problems. Estimates show that around 87% of people experience foot pain at some point in their lives. In his experience as a foot and ankle expert, Dr. Michal Kozanek of ThedaCare Orthopedic Care says the figure is closer to 100%.
“I believe every one of us has experienced some kind of a foot pain,” says Dr. Kozanek, an Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in foot and ankle care.
Dr. Kozanek provides care for everyday foot and ankle problems as well as traumas and complex issues. While some pain may be inevitable, you can take steps to ward off discomfort and keep your feet and ankles healthy for the long run.
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Common Foot & Ankle Issues
Many people experience plantar fasciitis, a condition that causes foot and heel pain. The plantar fascia is a tough band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes. This tissue pulls on the heel bone. It also supports the arch of the foot as it pushes off the ground. If the tissue becomes irritated or red and swollen, plantar fasciitis can result.
Plantar fasciitis can become an issue if you do a lot of standing or walking on uneven surfaces, or if you don’t wear proper footwear, Dr. Kozanek says. In addition, runners and people who spend a lot of time on their feet are more prone to developing the condition.
Plantar fasciitis tends to cause pain in the heel and the bottom of the foot. You may experience discomfort when you take your first steps in the morning. It may improve as you walk during the day. But as you continue to put weight on the foot, the pain often returns. Pain may also occur after standing or sitting for long periods.
Treatments for plantar fasciitis can include resting the foot, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, doing stretches and exercises, and wearing proper footwear. That can include purchasing orthotics, which get placed in the shoe to provide support and cushioning.
“Plantar fasciitis takes time to heal, but it will resolve on its own for most people,” Dr. Kozanek says. “Seek care for symptoms that worsen or fail to resolve.”
“It’s estimated that about 25,000 people sprain their ankle every day in the United States,” Dr. Kozanek says. “It’s one of the most common visits to the emergency room.”
Anyone can sprain their ankle, but athletes are at greater risk. Biomechanical studies show that the ankle, during activities such as running and jumping, can bear about four times one’s body weight, Dr. Kozanek says. For example, that would be around 800 pounds for a 200-pound individual.
Athletes are prone to ankle sprains and strains as well as ligament and tendon strains. Those who participate in contact sports and activities that involve running and jumping are at greater risk.
Young people tend to experience more sport- or activity-related ankle problems affecting the growth plate, a plate of cartilage within the bone, Dr. Kozanek says. Our growth plates fuse by adulthood. Older individuals can be at greater risk for fractures or sprains due to stiff or brittle bones.
“For a normal sprain, the first line of treatment is RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation,” Dr. Kozanek says. “If you can’t walk or there’s an obvious deformity, you should get treatment as soon as possible.”
It will take some time to heal from a sprain, Dr. Kozanek says. However, if you can’t stand without pain or limping, it’s time to seek care.
To avoid sprains, Dr. Kozanek recommends taking these precautions:
- Don’t play sports when you’re tired.
- Warm up your muscles before engaging in any kind of sport or exercise.
- Keep your ankles strong with a well-rounded exercise routine.
- Incorporate flexibility, strength training, and balancing exercises into your routine.
- Choose the appropriate shoe for the activity you’re engaged in, and don’t wear worn-out shoes.
- Select shoes that address any foot problems that you may have, such as high or low arches or forefoot deformities such as bunions or hammertoes.
- Wear boots or high-tops for hiking to support the ankle, or put on a brace.
“Ankles are crucial to our mobility, so we want to protect them as much as possible,” Dr. Kozanek says.
Diabetic Foot Problems
People with diabetes often experience nerve damage and poor circulation in the feet, and this puts them at greater risk for problems, Dr. Kozanek says. That means people in this group should take extra precautions.
“Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong so you can take care of yourself,” Dr. Kozanek says. “All these issues with nerve damage and poor circulation increase the risk for injuries due to lack of feeling.”
Small problems can become serious if you can’t feel them or don’t notice them, he adds. This can lead to issues such as callus buildup, painful corns, pressure sores, ulcers, and infections.
People with diabetes should follow these guidelines:
- Check your feet frequently, looking for everyday cuts, redness, swelling, sores, blisters, or other changes. Use a mirror if you can’t see the bottom of your foot, or ask a loved one for help.
- Wash your feet every day in warm water, but don’t soak your feet.
- Dry your feet immediately and apply lotion before putting on socks.
- Don’t go barefoot if you’re diabetic. To avoid injury, wear shoes and socks or slippers, even indoors.
- Wear well-fitting shoes.
- Try on new shoes at the end of the day when your foot tends to be the largest.
- Break in new shoes gradually.
- Always wear socks with shoes.
- Trim toenails straight across.
- Don’t remove corns or calluses on your own unless a health care professional advises you to do so.
- Get your feet checked at every health visit.
- Visit a foot doctor yearly, especially if you have nerve damage or neuropathy.
- Keep blood flowing. Put your feet up when sitting, and wiggle your toes.
- Choose feet-friendly activities like walking, biking, or swimming.
For anyone needing foot or ankle care, help is available through ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.
“Don’t ignore foot or ankle pain,” Dr. Kozanek says. “Seek care for symptoms that don’t resolve within a reasonable period of time.”