Shoes and Foot Problems
Every foot step puts a tremendous amount of stress on the feet. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the feet endure about 60 tons of stress for every mile we walk, which could add up to several hundred tons of force each day. With such a beating, it's no wonder one out of every six Americans (more than 43.1 million) has some type of foot problem.
Shoes are designed to protect the feet. However, poorly designed or improperly fitting shoes can increase the risk for injury or foot problems. Here are some common foot problems that may be associated with footwear:
Blisters. Blisters are fluid-filled sacs that form over areas where the skin is subjected to constant rubbing or friction. They are very common and are often associated with new shoes. They can also occur when the foot slides inside the shoe, causing a part of the shoe to rub against a part of the foot (like the ankle).
Calluses. Calluses are thickened areas of skin that appear hard and yellowish. They typically form in the same areas as blisters and are caused by continual rubbing of the skin. Calluses are commonly seen on the balls of the feet or the outside of the big and small toes. Tight shoes and high heels can contribute to callus formation because they put extra pressure on these areas of the feet.
Bunions. A bunion is an abnormal enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. It's caused when the abnormal forces are applied to the big toe, eventually forcing the toe to bend inward (toward the other toes). The joint is pushed outward, causing a visible bump on the side of the toe. Bunions can be caused by tight-fitting shoes and/or foot type and walking style. The jutting joint rubs against the side of the shoe, causing swelling, redness and pain.
Neuromas. A neuroma is an abnormal thickening of nerve tissue caused by irritation, excessive pressure or foot trauma. High heels and tight shoes can contribute to the development of a neuroma. It typically affects the nerve located between the third and fourth toes. It can cause a significant amount of burning pain while walking. Some patients also have numbness and tingling in the toes.
Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the connective tissue (fascia) that runs along the bottom of the foot. Chronic irritation or poor arch support can irritate the fascia. Eventually, the fascia may stretch or tear, causing inflammation and heel pain. Some people develop a bone spur where the fascia attaches to the heel bone.
Summer Shoe Picks
As the weather gets warmer, more people opt for cooler footwear. Lora Baker, D.P.M., Podiatric Surgeon with Allentown Family Foot Care in Allentown, PA, says open, summer shoes keep the feet cooler and reduce foot sweating. However, some types of shoes can increase the risk for foot problems.
Flip flops and summer seem to go hand-in-hand. Baker says the traditionally-styled flip flops are fine for walking short distances, like from the beach chair to the ocean or pool. For more significant distances, flip flops don't provide enough arch support. In addition, the plastic straps can cause irritation on the top of the foot and between the toes. If you love the look and feel of flip flops, look for designs that have some arch support and bottom sturdiness. Also look for flip flops that have cloth straps to reduce the risk of rubbing and irritation.
Sandals are very fashionable for the summer. They are best for walking shorter distances, or when you won't be spending a significant amount of time on your feet. As with flip flops, look for sandals with good arch support and a firm, but somewhat flexible sole. Baker advises consumers to be cautious of the sandal straps, which can sometimes rub the skin and cause blisters. Harder straps are generally more likely to rub than softer straps. Baker also recommends avoiding sandals (and other summer shoes) with high heels. Experts say high heels double the amount of pressure under the ball of the foot.
Baker says those who spend a considerable amount of time on their feet should wear sneakers. If you're concerned about the feet getting too hot, try a pair of vented sneakers. She also recommends wearing socks with sneakers to prevent the foot from rubbing against the inside of the shoe. Socks will also help absorb sweat. If shoes get smelly, try putting them in the sunlight, wash them or spray them with antifungal spray.
Baker says older people and those with diabetes tend to have more foot problems, often because of changes in circulation and skin. They may need to be more careful about wearing open shoes because they may not feel a stone in the shoe or small foot injury, increasing the risk it will develop into a more serious problem.
Research compiled and edited by Barbara J. Fister
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, public website, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org
American Podiatric Medical Association, http://www.apma.org