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Preventing foot pain

Foot pain isn't normal. Here are 8 ways to help prevent it.
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Foot pain is a very common problem. At any given time, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men, suffers from foot pain. One in 10 people have foot pain so severe that it is disabling.

"Most adults will suffer from foot pain at some point during their life," says John Malik, consultant podiatric surgeon at BMI Healthcare, Edgbaston hospital. "The severity differs, but severe foot pain can have a significant effect on a person's quality of life."

Foot pain can stop you exercising or simply walking about, which can have a negative effect on your general health. It can increase your risk of having a fall and being in constant pain can have a negative effect on your mood.

Foot pain can also cause problems elsewhere in your body, says Mr Malik. Because it alters the way you walk (your gait) it can end up causing knee, hip or back pain.

Don't ignore it

According to foot specialists (podiatrists and chiropodists), people usually seek help when their foot pain is so bothersome that it affects their lifestyle or work.

However, don't ignore your foot pain for too long, warns Colin Papworth, a podiatrist at the Accelerate Performance Centre. "The earlier we see you, the quicker the treatment," he says. "A lot of people come to see us a couple of years after the pain started, and then it can be a real problem to try and get on top of it."

Our feet are often swaddled in socks and shoes, especially during the winter months, so we tend to ignore them. When foot pain does occur, we expect it will be temporary.

"Some pains may ease, but most problems are best assessed as the majority of cases of foot pain are better treated earlier rather than later," says Mr Malik.

Heel pain

The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, so there's a lot that can go wrong. But when it comes to heel pain, there is usually one culprit: plantar fasciitis.

Plantar fasciitis happens when the connective tissue within the arch of the foot—the plantar fascia—becomes painfully inflamed.

"When you stand on your foot and the arch drops down, it stretches it," says Mr Papworth. "And where it attaches onto the heel bone it causes micro-tears. So the plantar fascia is being pulled against the bone and that sets up an inflammatory process."

Plantar fasciitis is a type of repetitive strain injury, one that is common with people who do a lot of walking or standing for long periods of time. Shop workers, factory workers and athletes are particularly susceptible to this condition.

If you have plantar fasciitis you might want to try putting your foot on a bag of frozen peas to take the swelling down. Another home remedy is to take a golf ball or tennis ball and roll your foot on it to massage the arch of your foot.

"With plantar fasciitis, all the little muscles become quite tight and go into a cramp or spasm, and they need to be relaxed a little bit," says Mr Papworth. "Don't massage the painful part in your heel, though. It will just aggravate it."

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