Oh, My Aching Feet!

Without question, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on attempting to resolve foot issues. I even resorted to buying gel mats for the kitchen and for my standing desk to minimize discomfort. Aside from my (presumably genetically) weak ankles (that, despite my rigorous efforts at strengthening, still occasionally cause me problems), my foot issues began as I became less sedentary when I made my lifestyle change. I expect it was also because–unlike my high-school self who could stand for 10 hours a day on a concrete floor wearing Keds at my summer shore kitchen job–I was a lot older.

Lots and lots of insoles!

Lots and lots of insoles!

Plantar Fasciitis
My first problem was plantar fasciitis. Regular walking started doing me in and I’d wake up with a super sore right heel. The irritation came and went, and like my general approach to medical nuisances, I rode out the intermittent occurrences.

Weird Knee and Hip Pain
Another problem came later when my right knee would get aggravated when I was out walking. Why? Who knows? I dealt with the mild inconvenient distraction.

Similarly, my right hip would occasionally hurt. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the connection between my foot issues and these other problems.

Hallux Pain
Next up: Unusual pain in my right hallux. (That’s the medical name for the big toe.)  Sometimes it was my left foot. I checked out a trigger point book my spouse, Michael, had discovered after some chronic back issues. (If you don’t have one, I highly recommend you check it out. It’ll help you resolve a lot of sore spots you thought you’d just have to live with forever.) According to the test, I had Morton’s Foot Syndrome (not as horrible as it might sound), a problem caused by where the second toe knuckle falls in relation to the big toe. I followed the basic instructions, applying a small circular cushion under each big toe, but it never really worked. (This is honestly one of the few things I tried in the book that didn’t help.)

After some fairly taxing discomfort and before a big trip to Italy that involved a lot of hiking and walking, I bought insoles specifically designed for this syndrome. The problem is that by having a higher second than first toe knuckle, the whole balance of the foot shifts to compensate. Apparently 1 in every 4 people has this issue. But the insoles didn’t solve my problem. Instead, it just made the outside of my foot hurt. I knew there would be some adjustment, but it persisted, so I ditched those insoles.

I logged a lot of miles in Italy, including here, in Cinque Terre.

I logged a lot of miles in Italy, including here, in Cinque Terre.

To add yet one more challenge to getting out and moving, I ended up with metatarsalgia. This inflammation is due to weak arch muscles and Morton’s Toe Syndrome. It’s actually more painful, for me at least, than plantar fasciitis, which I was able to alleviate (most of the time) with stretching.

Two years ago, within the space of a month, I injured both ankles enough that I had to cave and go to a doctor. Upon recovering, I mentioned my foot pain and was readily sent to the office shop to buy metatarsalgia pads. I applied them, as instructed, and ended up in such excruciating pain that I immediately ditched them.

The Real Solution
After years of buying new shoes, a variety of insoles, heel supports, ball-of-the-foot pain gel pads, and yet still suffering from foot pain that lead to calf knots, knee discomfort, hip aggravation, and even lower back problems, I was at a loss. I had a session with a movement coach who recommended a rolling and stretching regime, which helped to work out a lot of the knots and various chronic aches, but I was still encountering feet and what I assumed to be foot-related issues.

One day I was searching the Internet for information about metatarsalgia when I came across a running site dealing with foot issues. It espoused the virtues of as little padding as possible–even to the point of running barefoot. When I’d had the exercise session, the counselor had me do everything barefoot. It was agonizing for me. It had been years since I was able to comfortably walk without shoes. But having tried what seemed like everything else, I was willing to give it a shot.

The site recommending starting slowly, alternating padded shoes with flat ones or bare feet. Even after a short time doing this, I found it less and less comfortable wearing padded shoes. One day I went out walking, wearing my usual sneakers, and ended up with super sore feet. I could only conclude the super padded athletic were the cause.

A recent trend in barefoot running led to a number of companies developing a soled-equivalent of virtually unpadded sneakers. I got a pair and, though I ended up with sore arches, my feet–and the rest of my body–felt so much better. It took a while to work on strengthening my arches, but eventually the discomfort subsided.

Whenever I can, I wear super-flat shoes. I exercise in the basic flat sneakers I bought with just one thin insole, since the mesh fabric of the shoe was grinding through my socks. I also put the original, very basic liners back into my hiking boots and my feet feel great. It’s a bit harder to find fashionable, flat dress shoes and boots. To compensate, I mostly wear sneakers and switch out for classes to shoes/boots with the least heel and as little padding as possible, and do extra stretching to minimize the effects.

I can now go for long stretches barefoot. I am done giving tons of money to Dr. Scholl’s, various athletic shoe companies, and the gel mat people in search of the perfect fit, shape, and padding for my feet. It’s frustrating, in hindsight, that I was doing the exact opposite of what would have helped by adding more cushion and support to my shoes. If I had just made some simple changes, I wouldn’t have needlessly suffered (and probably could have taken another trip with all the money I’d have saved! Curses!)

It actually makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. Nature didn’t intend for us to wear shoes, except maybe to keep our feet from freezing. And in considering what indigenous people wore/wear, they’re basic moccasins or boots, not rubber-fortified, cushioned, and constricting supports. So if you suffer from foot/foot-related issues, you might want to consider this testament of a convert and go barefoot.


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