Foot pain is very common. About 75% of Americans have foot pain at some time in their lives. Most foot pain is caused by shoes that do not fit properly or that force the feet into unnatural shapes, such as pointed-toe, high-heeled shoes.
Your foot is a complex structure of 26 bones and 33 joints, layered with an intertwining web of more than 120 muscles, ligaments, and nerves. It serves the following functions:
- Supports weight;
- Acts as a shock absorber;
- Serves as a lever to propel the leg forward; and
- Helps maintain balance by adjusting the body to uneven surfaces.
Because our feet are very small compared with the rest of the body, the impact of each step exerts tremendous force upon them. This force is about 50% greater than the person’s body weight! During a typical day, people spend about 4 hours on their feet and take 8,000 – 10,000 steps. This means that the feet support a combined force equivalent to several hundred tons every day.
Toes Separation Exercise
If we exclude medical conditions and high-impact exercises, Ill-fitting shoes are the biggest cause of foot pain and most other foot conditions. Further, high-heeled shoes concentrate pressure on the toes and can aggravate, if not cause, problems with the toes.
The toe separation exercise is a perfect fit for people who spend a lot of time on their feet, especially if wearing ill-fitted shoes. The exercise is designed to return mobility to the toes and stretch the foot muscles.
Principal muscles involved: Plantar interosseus, adductor halluces
Secondary muscles involved: Various ligaments of the foot
This exercise consists of separating toes, with the help of the hands as shown on the image. Just sit down in a comfortable position, with one leg under the other. Use both hands to separate each pair of toes one by one, and then switch to the other leg. This exercise is especially recommended when your footwear presses upon, or at least immobilizes the toes, and so it is important to regain the lost mobility.
Walking around barefoot, especially on the sand at the beach, can be a pleasant and valid alternative, although not as specific or as strict as moving each toe individually. Keep in mind that, footwear should never harm the toes, ankle or any other part of the body, because a poor support has repercussions in many other areas (the knees, the hips, the spine, etc.).
The American Podiatric Medical Association offers the following tips for preventing foot problems in relation to shoes:
- Don’t ignore foot pain — it’s not normal. If the pain persists, see a doctor who specializes in podiatry;
- Inspect feet regularly. Pay attention to changes in color and temperature. Look for thick or discolored nails (a sign of developing fungus), and check for cracks or cuts in the skin. Peeling or scaling on the soles of feet could indicate athlete’s foot. Any growth on the foot is not considered normal;
- Make sure shoes fit properly. Purchase new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest, and replace worn out shoes as soon as possible;
- Select and wear the right shoe for specific activities (such as running shoes for running);
- Alternate shoes. Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day.
- Avoid walking barefoot, which increases the risk for injury and infection. At the beach or when wearing sandals, always use sunblock on your feet, as you would on the rest of your body.