Foot pain is not normal at any age. If your feet hurt, find out why and what you can do about it. Otherwise, you may end up with limited mobility that can restrict your activities.
“While a foot or ankle problem rarely is life-threatening, it definitely is lifestyle-threatening,” says Rock Positano, DPM, MSc, MPH, director of the Non-surgical Foot and Ankle Service at the Weill Cornell-affiliated Hospital for Special Surgery. “Getting the right diagnosis and treatment can literally put you back on your feet.”
In addition, the feet also affect other parts of the body. For example, having a high arch or a flat arch is a risk for developing problems and pain in the lower leg, knee, hip and back, Dr. Positano observes. “People with pain in those areas often need to have their feet evaluated, as well as the site of pain.”
Common types of foot pain
The heel is a common area for pain. “The foot makes contact with the ground 10,000 to 15,000 times a day in a very active person, and that constant, repetitive motion can take a toll,” Dr. Positano says. “Heel pain is particularly common among people who suddenly increase their activity or don’t wear footwear appropriate for the activity they’re engaging in.”
Heel pain is often associated with such conditions as Achilles tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the heel) and a heel spur (a protrusion on the underside of the heel bone that can intrude into the soft tissue, causing irritation and pain).
The plantar fascia, a large, fibrous band that runs along the bottom of the foot, is also a common site of pain. Inflammation of the plantar fascia (plantar fasciitis) can lead to Achilles tendinitis as well as posterior tibial tendinitis, which can cause pain on the inner side of the foot and ankle.
“Tendons are especially vulnerable after age 40, when the blood supply to these connective tissues decreases significantly,” Dr. Positano explains. “When there’s less blood supply, there’s also less elasticity, and even small tears take longer to heal.”
Don’t chalk up foot pain to an inevitable part of aging. And don’t wait to address foot problems of any kind. The longer you delay getting a diagnosis and starting treatment the more serious your condition becomes. The better you take care of your feet, the better they will take care of you.
Prevention and treatment
You can help prevent foot pain by strengthening your feet and regularly stretching your tendons and ligaments.
“Walking is the best strengthening exercise, because it puts a tremendous amount of stress and force on the foot,” Dr. Positano says.
Wearing appropriate footwear—socks, activity-specific shoes in the correct size, and any recommended insert or orthotic—can help protect the feet during walking or any other activity. Arch support is vital to foot health.
“I’m also a strong believer in stretching the Achilles tendon in the morning before you get out of bed. That stretch also is good for the plantar fascia and the posterior tibial tendon,” Dr. Positano says. (see Moves of the Month)
Avoid other foot exercises except under the advice and guidance of a foot health professional. If you have foot pain for more than a few days, especially if it restricts your activities, see a doctor.
“The key to proper treatment is an accurate diagnosis,” Dr. Positano stresses. Appropriate exercises, inserts/orthotics, or an ultrasound-guided cortisone injection are common pain-relieving strategies. “Surgery should be considered only when all else fails.”
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