The average person will walk 115,000 miles in his or her lifetime—four trips around the Earth. From the time we’re toddlers learning to walk until we are older adults possibly using a cane, our feet are vital to our quality of life.
The foot and ankle are a fascinating and complex body region made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. They’re responsible for a myriad of jobs, including standing balance, absorbing the shock sent into the body from the ground when we walk and forming a rigid lever to propel us forward as we move.
To complete these tasks properly, the foot and ankle have the unique ability to be, at times, mobile and adaptable and then rigid and powerful. By the time we have moved through a single day, our feet have endured hundreds of tons of force.
About 75 percent of Americans will have a foot problem at some point in their lives, which can decrease one’s quality of life and even lead to additional health issues arising from lack of motion and exercise.
These foot problems may include fractures, ligament sprains and muscle tears. Less obvious ones include plantar fasciitis, which causes heel pain, and tendonitis anywhere around the ankle.
Furthermore, irritation of the nerves and/or blood vessels at the foot and ankle can lead to tarsal tunnel syndrome, causing pain and tingling throughout the foot, and metatarsalgia, or Morton’s Neuroma, which causes pain or numbness at the balls of the foot and toes. While these injuries and inflammations create unhealthy feet, sometimes the foot alone causes the problem.
While the list of possible foot and ankle problems may be unnerving, there are actions you can take to remedy those foot problems and regain your quality of life.
- After fractures, sprains or surgery, the foot and ankle often demonstrate strength and motion deficits that can make you limp. These can be addressed via joint mobilizations and soft tissue massage done by a physical therapist and with instruction in a self-stretching and strengthening program.
- Muscle strains and tendonitis that cause swelling and pain often get better with icing, resting and gradual return to or modification of your activity.
- Pain in the bottom of the feet, balls of the feet and toes may be caused by excessive or abnormal pressure on those areas. It can be addressed by being fit with footwear that is appropriate for your foot’s shape and size, using custom or over-the-counter orthotics, and by having potential joint or motion restrictions treated by a physical therapist.
- Toe deformities, which may cause balance difficulties, can be supported—and progression of the deformity and disability can be halted—with various in-shoe padding and proper footwear.
- Diabetes and vascular disease can cause neuropathy (numbness) in the feet. In these instances, it is important to be properly fitted with shoes for foot protection and to regularly check the skin of the feet for cuts or blisters. If you do see cuts or blisters you should make an appointment with your doctor to be checked for infection and to begin healing measures.
No matter how slight or severe the problem may be, don’t sacrifice your function, safety and health on painful feet. Seek medical advice now and avoid running the risk of further injury and dysfunction. Maintain your health by “putting your best foot forward.”
Miranda L. Bednar is doctor of physical therapy (DPT) at Cardin & Miller Physical Therapy and Pedorthics, 6100 Old Jonestown Rd. Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-695-6436 or visit www.cardinmillerpt.com.