It used to be that aching feet was something you just had to live with — until it escalated to a situation requiring surgery. Not anymore: Here, two breakthroughs that can head off foot pain trouble at the pass — and help you feel better fast.
You’d think that the reason women are four times as likely to suffer from foot pain as men would come down to two small words: high heels. The reality? It’s another “h” word — hormones — that’s the real culprit behind the majority of female foot pain. Case in point: A recent University of Iowa study found that pregnancy can lead to permanent foot changes that increase the risk of problems. Menopause also makes women’s feet more vulnerable to pain and injury. Michael Nirenberg, D.P.M., a podiatric physician in Crown Point, Indiana, explains, “When hormone levels drop during menopause, it causes a decrease in the production of collagen — a matrix of elastic tissue that’s crucial for keeping the feet’s supporting structures strong.”
But unlike the consequences of other hormonal havoc, the problems affecting your tootsies can be completely and easily reversed...long before the “s” word — surgery — enters the conversation. Here, two breakthroughs that can help reverse the two most common foot woes.
Women whose feet hurt, tire easily or are swollen on the inside bottom likely have fallen arches — a condition in which the tendons of the foot become lax and lose height. It can occur in one foot or both and can lead to plantar fasciitis (painful inflammation along the entire sole of the foot).
To ease and prevent the pain caused by collapsed arches, experts recommend the “short-foot exercise,” which led to a 73-percent increase in arch angle in a recent Korean study. To do: Take off your shoes and stand with both feet flat on the floor, then raise the arch of your foot by sliding your big toe toward your heel — without curling your other toes or lifting your heel. Hold for 8 seconds, then relax. Repeat four times. Researchers advise doing the exercise first thing in the morning, then repeating at least twice a day, but if your arches are very sore, you can minimize discomfort by doing fewer repetitions for the first week or two.
To build arch strength even faster, the same team of Korean researchers found that it also helps to wear insoles, which ease pain while keeping arches from collapsing further. You don’t need to buy expensive custom orthotics, according to a British study, which found that over-the-counter insoles are just as effective. One to try: Women’s Profoot Care Smart Arch.
A study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 64 percent of women with foot complaints suffer from a bunion — a swelling of the first joint of the big toe that causes it to angle toward the other toes. Symptoms include pain, a bony bump over the joint and red, calloused skin along the inside edge of the big toe. Bunions run in families and can also be caused by wearing shoes that are too small — something 88 percent of us do.
Bunions that have progressed to the point where it’s difficult to walk and even wide shoes don’t fit comfortably may require surgery, but most bunions can be treated naturally, say experts at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. One study-proven remedy: the Bunion Aid Hinged Splint ($23, at amazon.com), which was shown in a recent German study to straighten the big toe and eliminate pain within six weeks. The thin splint is fastened to the big toe with Velcro and allows for natural flexing of the toe. For best results, experts suggest wearing it for two to three hours a day and overnight until the toe is realigned.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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