Sidestep the handicap of foot pain, now and later. John Von Arnim reports.
It’s true that the incidence of lower extremity agony soars when people are over 60, but serious foot issues can appear in your 20s and 30s. Over a lifetime even a card-carrying slacker strolls the equivalent of three times around the planet— or 128,000 kms —so imagine the wear a marathon runner or a weekend jogger puts on his “plates of meat”.
The foot is one of the most complex structures in the human body—26 bones, 33 joints and over 50 tendons, ligaments and muscles. Double those figures and both feet make up a quarter of the bones in your entire skeleton. And what happens when you have a lot of mechanics in play? The risk of breakdowns multiplies.
More so as you age, but overuse and too much stress on the feet can fast-track the process. Excess weight, diabetes, smoking and circulation problems can also cause the sort of pain most common when you swing your feet out of bed in the morning before your muscles have had time to stretch.
According to the Australian Podiatry Association, more than 40 per cent of Australians will experience some sort of foot problem in their lifetime. Which makes it hard to understand why feet are the Rodney Dangerfield of body parts and get no respect, particularly from men. But proper footwear and the right type of exercise and lifestyle can work wanders in preventing the sort of soft shoe shuffle your grandad accepted as a “natural” part of growing older.
With the exception of football players and other men who earn a living from their dazzling footwork, most guys view their feet as fixtures that terminate their legs. It’s a care-free attitude that will only aggravate the common foot problems that start to develop from the early 30s on.
Arthritic joints occur mostly in the elderly, but you don’t need too many years under your belt to notice the thinning of the foot pads on your soles (by the late 40s the average person has lost 50 percent of the shock absorbing capacity of the natural foot pad), plantar fasciitis (the inflammation of the fibrous tissue on the sole), the first sign of bunions, poor circulation and discoloured toenails.
Complete this quick quiz to assess whether you need to take action now:
Are You Carrying Too Much Weight?
In Australia 7.4 million people – almost half of all adults – are overweight, reports the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Even if you don’t consider yourself heavy now, the average Aussie male gains eight kilos from the ages of 30 to 50. Extra kilos can severely punish your feet when you consider that they absorb 1.5 to 2 times your body weight during normal walking and up to four times your body weight when you jog. The Australian Podiatry Association advises that your best bet is to switch to a diet that will help you reduce weight and increase physical exercise. Nothing too strenuous at first- a daily walk of about 45 minutes is a good start.
Are You A Borderline Diabetic?
Obesity and excess weight are the biggest culprits in Australia’s growing Type 2 Diabetes epidemic. Diabetes can have a devastating effect on the feet, leading to damaged blood vessels and nerves, reduced blood flow, a loss of feeling and a greater risk of foot ulcers and infections. An annual foot screening is mandatory for diagnosed diabetics.
Do You Have Poor Circulation?
Unfortunately, the old wives’ tale that cold hands and feet reveal a warm heart isn’t much consolation if you suffer from a narrowing of the veins in the legs. Formally known as peripheral artery disease, if your partner has ever squealed at the iciness of your feet in bed ifs time to take more care of your tootsies. Smoking can also lead to poor circulation in the feet.
Flat Feet Or Noble Arches?
Both foot shapes can cause problems. Flat feet feel and look “flabby” and over time the tendons and muscles stretch and become flatter. In a worst-case scenario, people with flat feet can develop tendonitis and arthritis, which is why the army has always taken a dim view of flat-footed recruits because of the amount of marching involved in a military career. A high arch might look if smart in dress shoes, but its shock absorption capacity is low, putting more pressure on the feet and heels and on up to the knees and back. Flat-footed men should always wear shoes that support the arch and heel. Men with high arches should go for softly padded shoes to absorb the shock of walking or running.
When Did You Last Get Your Feet Measured?
If your answer is, “In Year 9 when my mum bought my last pair of Clarks school shoes”, it’s time to revisit the foot gauge. Feet flatten and lengthen as we grow older, so if you’re still asking for the shoe size that fitted you like a glove when you were 21, you’re probably wearing ill-fitting shoes. Badly fitting shoes are one the leading causes of foot problems.
Do You Suffer From Heel Pain?
Heel pain is the most common problem of the foot and ankle and can affect couch potatoes and super athletes alike. It usually occurs because the fascia-the fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes – becomes inflamed or irritated. There are many causes yawing from wearing shoes with hard soles that rub against the heel and being overweight, to not warming up before you exercise, walking and running too much on hard surfaces, or suffering from overuse conditions like Achilles tendonitis. If you’re a runner, try slowing to a walk for a while until the heel feels better or add some cross training like swimming. Whatever the cause it’s a good idea to consult a podiatrist who can recommend a wide range of treatments from ultrasound to special CE foot exercises. Check out the web site of the Australian Podiatry Association in your state for your nearest foot practitioner.
Do You Walk Regularly?
If the answer is no, start now and buy proper athletic shoes that support your arches and cushion your feet. The use it or lose it philosophy applies very much to feet and walking is a proven method of keep the muscles in your feet strong, active and healthy.