Can’t Walk This Way

Sometimes, activity can be a real pain in the foot. Here's how to take care of your piggies.
Can’t Walk This Way

According to a study by the American Podiatric Medial Association (APMA), 72 percent of Americans say they do not exercise because foot pain prevents them from doing so. When you’re a busy woman on the go — and trying to establish a weight loss walking routine — any kind of discomfort can really throw a wrench into your plans. Yet according to the APMA, 35 percent of those with foot pain have been suffering for two years or longer.

That’s not right, says Dr. Suzanne Levine, a Manhattan-based podiatrist and author of Your Feet Don't Have to Hurt. “Our bodies are made for walking, so if a person can’t walk for more than one or two miles without foot pain, that is a clear sign that something is wrong.”

Age adds to the problem, continues Levin. "[The foot is] the only part of the body that loses fat as we get older, so there is also less cushioning available.”

So what do you do if foot discomfort is preventing you from working out? See your doctor, of course, and follow these expert tips to help keep your feet in tiptop shape.

Find the right shoe. Not all workout shoes are created equal. “The most important thing is to have the right shoes for the right activity,” says Michael George, a Los Angeles-based fitness trainer who has worked with such celebrities as Reese Witherspoon, Julianne Moore and Sela Ward. Go to a store that specializes in fittings. They will watch you walk and check out your gait — that is, how you walk. They can tell if you over-pronate (your feet roll inward too much) and by how much, if you crush on the ball of your foot, and so on.”

Sue Ryder, women’s product director at Aetrex and a longtime footwear designer advises looking for a store that has a pedorthist — a healthcare professional who specializes in footwear and supports — on staff. Also, she adds, “thousands of stores across the country have a foot scanning system, where people step on a scanner and in less than 30 seconds a blueprint will measure their foot size, arch type and pressure points.”

Common foot problems — and how to solve them

The problem: Athlete’s Foot
The solution: This contagious infection is caused by a fungus and tends to hibernate in warm, moist areas, such as swimming pools, showers and gyms. Wear flip flops when in these areas, and make sure you remove sweaty socks soon after a workout.

The problem: Ingrown toenails
The solution: Make sure you cut your nails straight across — cutting in corners or on the sides increases the risk for this problem. You should also avoid wearing tight, restrictive shoes. If you have an ingrown nail, see a doctor about having it removed.

The problem: Blisters
The solution: Blisters form when the skin is repeatedly rubbed, like against the side of tight-fitting shoe. Be sure your shoes fit properly, wear socks and use foot powder to keep them dry when working out.

The problem: Corns
The solution: Corns are also caused by pressure from shoes, so be sure to get a pair that fit well. Wearing shoes with increased height or width in the toe area and using cushioned pads and insoles can also help.

The problem: Plantar wart
The solution: These warts are found on the bottom of the foot and are caused by a virus. Avoid walking barefoot in public places, and if you get a Plantar wart, consult with your doctor. Over-the-counter medications typically don’t work as well as what your doctor can prescribe, and you may even need a minor procedure to have it removed.

Trade in for a newer model. “People get really attached to their sneakers,” says Levine. “It’s like a badge of honor to have the same pair of workout shoes for years, but it is truly bad for your feet.” Replace your worn-out sneakers every six months or every 300-400 miles. And while you definitely don’t have to break the bank, this is the one workout purchase on which you might want to splurge a little.

Shop smart. This is a purchase you want to make in person so that you can try on multiple options and get help from a pro. According to the APMA, the best time to shop for new sneakers is later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest. Be sure to bring along your exercise socks, and also have a member of the sales staff measure both feet every time you visit the store — generally feet get longer and wider as the tendons loosen. If you wear orthotics, bring them as well and ask for styles with removable insoles.

Stretch! It’s as important to stretch your feet before working out as it is the rest of your muscles. “Lie on your back and lift up one leg to a 90 degree angle; hold there with both hands,” says George. “Point your foot, then flex it with a full range of motion. Do two sets of 25 point and flexes per foot at least two times per week. And it’s also very important to always stretch the hamstring and calves, which stretches the Achilles tendon.”

Skip the stilettos. Levine has a two-hour rule when it comes to wearing high heels. “They are fine in moderation, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of walking or standing, then it’s best to have another pair of shoes with you that won’t take such a toll on your feet,” she explains. And flat shoes should also be worn with caution — flip flops, in particular, offer no protection, no support and no stability. The best shoe, says Dr. Levine, is one with a one to two-inch heel.

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