One-third of Americans suffer foot-related pain. Do you?
From head to toe, Americans are feeling pain. Now new research puts a twist on the old saying pain in the neck, pointing instead to the fact that more than 28 percent of Americans suffer foot pain, as reported on National Public Radio (NPR).
Women experience twice as much foot pain as men, according to a National Institutes of Health study of 3,300 adults, the NPR report revealed.
For many, the pain is so bad they can hardly walk, let alone exercise.
“Talk to 10 friends, and many will likely tell you, ‘Yes, I have foot pain, says Marian Hannan, an epidemiologist at Boston’s Hebrew Senior Life and a professor at Harvard Medical School in the NPR report. Unfortunately, it’s often not viewed as a serious problem. You don’t generally die from it. It’s not cancer, and it’s not really been given the serious attention” it warrants.
But while many people figure foot pain is just another problematic part of aging, and they’ll just have to live with it and get used to the pain, Hannan says in the NPR story that nothing could be further from the truth. If you have foot pain, she says, go see someone who specializes in feet. That would be either a podiatrist or a physical therapist with foot expertise. The pain can often be treated successfully and further problems prevented.
Possible Causes of Foot Pain
Stiff Shoes: Shoes should be stable, but flexibility is also key. They should bend in the spot where the toes bend.
Shoes That Don’t Fit Properly: Shoes that are too big or too small can pinch or strain feet. As you age, your feet may grow wider and longer, and your shoe size may change, so measure your feet regularly.
High Heels: If you have to wear high heels, try varying the shoe and the heel height during the week.
Same Shoes Every Day: Alternating shoes on different days can help keep feet limber.
Foot pain in Hannan’s study most commonly came from bunions, but people also had hammertoes, corns, calluses, flat feet and a very painful condition called plantar fasciitis. All of these conditions get worse with age, Hannan says.
The problem is also exacerbated by the obvious: Shoes heels, pointy and narrow that just don’t fit. Men tend to buy ill-fitting shoes that are too big, which can present support problems.
But for women, the problems are more varied. Toes squished into pointy shoes. Foot bones crunched into shoes that are too narrow. And feet smooshed into shoes that are just too small. Heels, of course, put added pressure on the ball of the foot, and if the ball of the foot is squished into a pointy toe box, the problem is even worse.
And, unfortunately as we age, our feet can feel the brunt.
“Our feet can actually get wider, and they can change shape,” says Emily Cook, the podiatrist. “They can change size. You can lose flexibility within your joints. Certain foot deformities bunions, hammertoes” can worsen over time. Weakened ligaments and joints, arthritis and a thinning of the fatty pads on the bottom of our feet can also cause complications.
And men aren’t exactly off the hook. The same things happen to the aging male foot. But because of the shoes women tend to wear, foot problems are far more common among women.
The New Shoe Remedy
Cook says there can be remedies. Many problems, she says, can be diminished by simply buying more appropriate shoes. And she offers a number of suggestions: First off, shoes should fit properly. It’s best to buy shoes at the end of the day, as feet can swell as the day wears on. Also, get your feet measured routinely. Aging feet can get wider and longer. You may no longer be that size 6 at age 55.
Why Shoes Hurt
Why do high heels hurt even after you take them off? Wearing high heels can shorten calf muscles and stiffen Achilles tendons.
Wearing Flip-Flops? Watch Your Step
Foot doctor Rock Positano warns against using flip-flops in the wrong places and at the wrong times.
You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoe. They should not be crunched. The heel should offer support and shouldn’t collapse when you squeeze the heel-box portion of the shoe. If shoes don’t feel comfortable right away, don’t buy them. And don’t be fooled by the you-just-have-to-break-them-in argument. There’s no such thing as a break-in period.
If you feel you have to wear dressy shoes or heels for work, try wearing different pairs on different days.
“What I tell women in this particular situation is that you need to think of different types of shoes for different types of purposes,” Cook says. “For example, when you’re traveling, you don’t want to wear a dressy type of shoe. You need something like a sneaker, something very supportive that’s comfortable so you’re not beating up your foot before you even make it to the event.”
Cook also encourages patients to minimize the amount of pressure placed on their foot by wearing lower heels.
“If you must wear heels, try to change the heel height and use different-size heels on different days,” she says. Cook appreciates women’s need to appear stylish on the job, adding that it’s frustrating for women in particular because the shoe industry is driven by fashion” not comfort and fit.
The Next Step
For some patients, new, more comfortable shoes may not be adequate enough to relieve and even treat foot pain. They may need orthotics, which are plastic inserts that fit directly into the shoe for cushioning and support. Some over-the-counter products are fine. Cook says patients often try these less expensive options first.
Shoes and Orthotics
Wearing orthotics can help minimize foot pain. Emily Cook, a podiatrist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, offers a few tips on picking the right shoe and an orthotic to match.
Some foot doctors think custom orthotics are too expensive, especially since they are typically not covered by health insurance. But for particularly complex problems, Cook says custom orthotics may be exactly what’s needed.
Extra Credit: Ouch! Feeling Her Foot Pain