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Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 12:26 am

Happy feet

Start your exercise regimen on the right foot with the right pair of shoes, streches and exercises

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Most of us use our feet all day, every day – for work, for play, to get to our car , to get a drink of water, to get ourselves to the bathroom. With all of this walking, it’s not surprising that there are more than 300 types of foot problems that can develop. More than 75 percent of Americans will suffer at least one of these foot ailment in their lifetimes, says Foot Care Basics: Preventing and Treating Common Foot Conditions, a report from Harvard Medical School.

Each time you take a step, your foot is forced to carry two times your body weight, says Arnold Ravick, D.P.M., a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, Bethesda, Minn. When you run, the pressure is six or seven times your body weight, or several tons. Typical foot ailments that develop from overuse or improper care include arthritis, tendonitis, joint and muscle problems and plantar fasciitis, a common type of heel pain.

Trying to avoid these problems is another reason to pick fresh fruit over French fries. Every pound you gain adds to the pounding your feet take. “It reminds me of that famous da Vinci quote,” says James P. Ioli, D.P.M., chief of podiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Mass. “‘The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.’ When you’re overweight or have a high B.M.I., every step you take places extra stress on that exquisite
engineering.

If you already have foot problems, over-the-counter or custom-made orthotics can offer extra arch support. Surgical procedures can also offer solutions, however, these are usually a last resort.

To avoid the pain in the first place, you can practice a few exercises that will help stretch out the life-span of your feet.

Exercises:  
Foot stretch: Stand on your tip-toes for 30 seconds. Repeat five times. Then sit back on your heels for 30 seconds, and repeat five times.

Achilles tendon stretch: Stand about a foot from a wall, both feet flat, and then step back with one leg and move hips forward until you feel a good stretch along the back of the calf. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with other leg.

Plantar fascia stretch:  roll up a towel and try to grasp it with your toes, again spending 30 seconds on each side.

Ravick recommends performing these stretches at least once a day, preferably right before you go to bed because muscles tighten overnight. Stretching at night helps you to circumvent pain instead of just trying to fix it once you have it. If you run, Ravick suggests stretching before, after and also at night.

When purchasing shoes, both Ravick and Ioli agree that you should go at the end of the day when your feet are at their most swollen so that you can ensure a comfortable fit throughout the day. Boutique or smaller, specialty stores are more likely to have staff who understand how a shoe should feel. “Remember,” says Ravick, “It’s not about the number, it’s the fit. You should be able to easily stick one finger into the space between the heel and the shoe, but not two fingers. It’s like how porridge should be – just right.”

In addition to purchasing the right shoe, Ioli explains that it’s also important to wear appropriate socks for the type of shoe you’re purchasing.  “You wouldn’t want to wear nylons if you’re purchasing a hiking boot,” he says. He also recommends having your feet resized once a year, as conditions such as pregnancy can change the length and width of your foot.  

So do da Vinci and your works of art a favor. Use your head when it comes to your feet. 

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