Most of us don’t think about our feet until it’s too late: when we sprain one running a marathon or suffer through a day in new shoes only to feel a blister forming on the back of our heel.
But when something goes wrong, it becomes glaringly clear just how important our feet are—and that we should be taking better care of them on a daily basis.
“I wash them, I protect them with shoes, and hey, they even get a massage at the nail salon every once in a while, isn’t that good enough?” you ask. The answer is no, it’s not.
Every single day you are putting your feet through the ringer and increasing your risk for serious, and sometimes debilitating, issues. Sure, shoving them into stiff leather and limping around all day is one choice you can recognize as not the best, but most of the habits taking a toll will totally surprise you. You probably don’t even know you’re doing them (or that they are threatening the health of your feet).
Podiatrists (the guys who will be treating your dogs when all those bad habits catch up with you) share their expert insight into the everyday habits they’d wish you stop doing.
Wearing boots all winter, and then suddenly switching to sandals.
April really does come in like a lion and out like a lamb. You’re in thick leather boots one day and digging through the back of your closet to find a pair of flip flops the next. “Transitioning from winter to spring (boots and shoes to barefoot, sandals, or flats) can cause tendonitis and plantar fasciitis,” said Dr. Brant L. McCartan, podiatrist at Milwaukee Foot & Ankle Specialists. “Your legs have spent the colder months wearing shoes or boots with a heel and a heel drop. Then, when going barefoot, or in flats/sandals, your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are pulled tighter than normal.” He recommends combatting this by performing foot stretches during the change of seasons.
Wearing flip flops.
It’s no surprise that flip-flops provide little support for your feet. “You have to clench the muscles in your feet the entire time you’re wearing them so they don’t fall off. If you’re wearing them around the pool or to do a quick errand, that toe-gripping is no big deal, but when you walk in them for hours, and for days, this muscle clenching can lead to shortened toe muscles (called hammer toes) and gait and balance changes, and it can affect how your whole body moves,” said Katy Bowman, M.S, biomechanist and bestselling author of Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet. “Gripping doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but gripping—when you’re walking—is more than just bent toes. The “grip” to keep footwear on makes some toe bones curl up and some down, drives the end of some bones into the ground, creating higher-than-normal pressure (which can lead to toe contracture/metatarsal injury over time), and drives the ends of some bones up into the top of the shoe (which can lead to corns and calluses over time if there’s something for the toes to rub on overtop).” To minimize these effects, she recommends a sandal that looks like a Greek sandal: strappy on top, flat on the bottom, and fully connected to your foot.
Always running on the same side of the street.
Do you put in your headphones and head out for a jog on your favorite route each morning? It’s time to mix things up: Running on the same side of the street can cause issues, said McCartan. “The street is pitched towards the curb (for rain drainage). You will over stride on that side and can develop IT band tendonitis if you do not switch this up. Same goes for on a track with your outside leg.”
Taking ZUMBA class.
If you’re thinking of adding the dance craze to your fitness routine, proceed with caution. “I see so many injuries from ZUMBA—strains, sprains and stress fractures,” said McCartan. “Too much too soon can lead to a stress fracture. Especially in locations with minimal sun or people spending time inside for long periods. This can lower vitamin D and subsequently Calcium absorption. Bones can be weaker, and over doing it can lead to this condition.”
Wearing shoes all the time.
Wearing shoes is the best thing you do for your feet, right? You’re protecting them from the elements! Sorry, wrong again. “The most common daily habit that wreaks havoc on foot health is wearing shoes,” said Jennie Ann Freiman, MD, wellness blogger at www.OObrooTips.com. “All shoes change the foot and leg structure and function, and high heels, especially stilettos, are the worst offenders. The long-term health effects of shoes include changes to the spine and hip, which in turn effect balance and gait. If you compare modern feet to those of our ancestors, our feet have smaller bones and some of our leg muscles and nerve endings have become inactive.” The good news is that the solution is easy: go barefoot more often. “Going barefoot is one antidote to shoes, and those who do it regularly see improved muscle tone, strength and flexibility of their lower limbs,” said Freiman. A study published in podiatry journal The Foot found that among modern subjects, the Zulu population, which often goes barefoot, had the healthiest feet while the Europeans—the habitual shoe-wearers—had the unhealthiest.
Sleeping with your socks on.
Love curling up in bed in your favorite pair of fuzzy socks? You need to stop that, too. “[Your feet] need to breath, and kept covered all day, especially in 100-percent cotton socks can lead to athletes foot, fungal nails, macerated webspaces, and other conditions that thrive in damp environments,” said McCartan.
Not drying your feet.
You run a bar of soap over your feet, walk out of the shower and on to a bathmat, and then slip into some socks. Don’t see any problem with this series of events? Most people aren’t washing or drying their feel properly: “How many people check between there toes, wash their feet, and specifically dry their feet and between their toes? This can help prevent future problems (like avoiding fungus),” said McCartan.
Cutting your nails wrong.
We aren’t all trained nail technicians, but slowing down a bit and being careful when cutting your toenails can prevent complications. “Cutting your nails on an angle, as opposed to straight across and cutting nails too short can lead to ingrown toe nails,” said McCartan.
Slipping your shoes on (without untying them).
Who unties and reties their shoes every time they put them on? Not us. But “the more you slip on your laced shoes, the looser the laces get and subsequently your foot slides around,” said McCartan. “This can lead to jamming of your nails, instability and potentially sprains, as well as having your intrinsic muscles work harder to keep your foot in place. This can lead to aches and fatigue.”
Sitting indian style.
It’s been instilled in us since story time in kindergarten, but sitting cross-legged or on your knees can lead to issues with the hips, that affects overall balance and gait, which has negative implications for your feet, said McCartan. The way you drop your foot on the ground affects the muscles responsible for moving the ankle and foot upward, and improper gait can also cause back pain.
Shopping for shoes in the morning.
Plan on hitting the store before work to get a new pair of sneakers? Trying on shoes first thing in the morning isn’t the best choice. “When shopping, it is best to try on at the end of the day, or after walking for a couple of hours. This way your foot will already be swollen and give you a better idea of fit,” said McCartan. “And be sure to try the shoes on with the socks that you would wear with them (warm winter socks with boots, synthetic running socks with gym shoes, nylons with dress shoes, and barefoot with sandals).”
Wearing cotton socks.
Cotton may be the fabric of our lives, but 100-percent cotton socks are not the best for your feet. “They do not wick away moisture (sweat) and the woven material loses shock absorption quickly after getting wet (minutes with some people),” said McCartan. “It is best to wear a synthetic fiber (nylon, polyester, elastic or combination) for the moisture wicking and shock absorption potential. For natural fibers wear merino wool, or socks made of banana leaves, bamboo, etc.”