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Feet change over time: as you age your feet will become slightly wider and probably a bit longer. They will also lose some flexibility. The natural padding under the foot will become thinner and less able to take the pressure and shock that you once put your feet through. Accommodate these natural changes by paying attention to what your feet tell you: pain and discomfort mean problems.
The foot has a vast number of nerves and nerve endings, making it one of the most sensitive parts of the body. There is also a general healing art based on these nerves, called Reflexology (see our Reflexology article). It claims that the feet (and hands and ears) can relay signals to organs, parts and even functions of the body. By treating these pressure points, conditions and ailments can be healed or partially healed. Consult a professional in this field for the best results.
• At the end of any period of exertion, even a day at the office, a California foot surgeon recommends taking your shoes off and elevating your feet and rubbing your toes to increase blood flow
• When doing a lot of walking, wear shoes that provide support, and take several pairs that can accommodate your feet later in the day as they naturally swell after walking or exercise
• If you have foot pain or discomfort, find out what's causing it. If the problem persists, see a specialist
• Always fit your foot itself with a shoe, don't buy a size
• Insoles can help protect feet even before soreness or other problems develop
• Massages and soakings can help restore the strength of feet. You can make or find massage oils from rose, olive, sweet almond, rosemary, thyme, marigold flowers, lavender, calendula, arnica, and others, most of which contain flavonoids that are anti-inflammatories as well as having other natural properties.
• Losing excess weight literally takes a load off your feet. Weight deforms the feet and puts stress and pressure on them that causes both temporary and permanent damage: flattened arches, bunions, stretched tendons, heel spurs, and all the other common problems with feet.
Note that foot soaks and applying essential oils may not be right for you if you have conditions that affect circulation, like diabetes, or skin conditions like eczema. Always consult a doctor before treating any condition on your own.
• Ayurveda, the ancient tradition of medicine in India (see section on Alternative Medicines under How to Choose a Doctor), places great importance on the feet and their care. This can involve massaging the whole foot including the toes before bathing, washing carefully, using a gentle exfoliating cream to remove dead skin once a week, paying special attention to calluses on the heel and ball of the foot, and moisturizing with coconut oil or shea butter.When your feet have had a hard day a foot soak can be made using a base of oatmeal and almond meal (2 tablespoons each), and adding lavender flowers, lemon peel (1/4 cup each), and dried rosemary (1 tablespoon). Put in a cheesecloth and simmer for 20 minutes. Add cooler water up to your ankles and soak for 15 minutes. Pat dry and moisturize.
Foot Problems & Solutions
Shoes are often the first place to look for foot pain. Studies suggest that most Americans suffer from foot pain because most don't take care of their feet - if they even think about them. Badly-fitting shoes can cause much more than just pain: any damage done to the feet is transferred directly to other parts of the body, causing muscles in the legs and back, and even in the jaw, to contract in reaction.
Bear in mind when buying shoes:
• There should be about half an inch worth of space in front of the longest toe; your foot naturally flattens out slightly when you walk. In running shoes there should be more room, because the pressure applied to the feet is greater
• No shoe really breaks-in in a way that changes its fit: you should be able to walk comfortably in a new pair of shoes when you try them on. If they are tight they may loosen but will tighten up again
• Buy a shoe, not a size: size is an abstract concept, but your foot is not. Buy the shoe that fits best, regardless of what size the manufacturer says it is. Never be afraid to try on several pairs until you find the best fit
• Avoid plastic shoes or shoes made of any material that doesn't let your feet breathe: trapped moisture on skin is the best place for bacteria to breed
• Replace running, walking and any activity shoes frequently, because they wear out inside first by losing their cushioning quality. Many specialists suggest that you put no more than 300 miles on a pair before replacing them
Athlete's foot and other fungal infections. Athlete's foot (see our Athlete’s Foot section), also called tinea pedis, is one of the most common foot-related complaints. It is a fungal infection that favors moist, dark places and lives off skin. It is highly contagious and is also resistant to many medications designed to cure it. It is thought that some people are more susceptible to it because of genetic predisposition.
It is characterized by dry, scaling and itchy patches of skin, usually starting in between the two outer toes. It can also cover pretty much the whole foot with dry and itchy skin. In other cases it can spread to the toenails, where it infects not just the nail but the area directly under it called the nail bed. The nail grows from this area, and because there is less blood flow, it is very hard to get rid of the infection. In the most serious cases, such as pain from the infection, the nail itself can be removed and the exposed nail bed can be treated with antifungal agents (see below). The procedure must be done by a physician however. Bear in mind that it takes around 10 months for the nail to grow back.
In more serious cases it can cause the skin to crack and become susceptible to other bacterial infections. This is especially important for people with circulatory problems like diabetes, and people suffering from immunosuppressive conditions. As with all conditions, diet plays a role (see below).
Drugs to cure athlete's foot often work only briefly before the infection returns. For nail infection there are oral medications, but many doubts have been raised about the actual safety of these drugs.
Natural remedies tend to look inward rather than outward: some physicians suggest that fungus thrives because of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the patient. Selenium can restore a balance in the body that will allow it to fight the fungus, and should be taken as a supplement, though selenium-rich foods (corn, wheat, eggs, cheese, soybeans, walnuts and many others) might help but not treat the problem on their own. The most effective treatment is to use several remedies together, making sure not to irritate or burn the area.
Natural remedies are not always any more effective on this kind of fungus than standard medications, because it is very hard to kill. You may have to try several different ones over a long period of time, and even then many estimate the success rate at little over 20%. The key to remember is that some are more effective for some people and not for others: it is all a matter of body chemistry, which varies person to person. Be prepared to try several different remedies before finding the one that works for you.
Topical natural remedies that have worked for patients in the past include:
• Tea tree oil, with antiseptic and strong antifungal properties, can be applied directly to the feet and toes. Results will take time, sometimes over a month, but many report that the infection clears up. This can also be combined with lavender oil. Traditional Australian medicine has used tea tree oil for centuries for coughs and colds, and to treat wounds
• Colloidal silver, which is microscopic amounts of silver in a liquid suspension, also has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. It can also be applied directly to the affected area
•Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a natural fungicide
• Garlic, oil of oregano, geranium oil and others have antifungal and antibacterial properties, which have been used for hundreds of years in folk remedies to treat skin disorders. The type of oregano used is Origanum vulgare, not the usual spice used in cooking, and is too strong for some, so test a small area first. It can also be used in combination with olive oil
• Sosa (Solanum chrysotrichum), a Mexican herb used to treat fungus infections
• Snakeroot (Ageratine), used in Mexico and by some Native Americans originally to treat snake bites, is also used for skin infections. It should never be taken internally, however
• Zinc oxide, available in a powder form similar to talc. This can be used on the feet directly and inside shoes
• Some people claim that rubbing a sliced onion over the feet treats the infection
• A vinegar soak, usually using apple cider vinegar, works for light infections. Use the vinegar full-strength and enough to cover your toes completely. Do this for 2 to 4 weeks, changing the vinegar every week
• Other soaks, including rubbing alcohol, and water and hydrogen peroxide (3%), work for some people but not all, and usually only for mild cases of infection. Another popular soak, since ancient times, is Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate) (see our Epsom Salts article), which is a natural sedative
Prevention is very important with conditions like fungal infections which often come back. Even after the infection clears up, which can take several months, it should be periodically treated to keep it away.
To avoid or lessen the chance of getting athlete's foot, consider:
• When cutting the nails, it is recommend to cut straight across. Do not cut too short, because this makes the skin around the nail less protected, and do not allow the nails to get too long because this can cause bleeding under the nail when it hits the end of the shoe
• Always clean your feet every day and fully dry them before putting on socks
• Wear clean socks every day
• Alternate shoes so each pair has time to dry out fully
• Wear shoes that are not too tight, especially in the ball of the foot
• Wear disposable insoles during treatment so that soiled ones can be discarded; otherwise you risk re-infecting your feet
• Wear special shoes or sandals to public swimming pools, gyms, and other areas where your feet could be exposed, or re-exposed, to infection
• Clean the nail scissors or clippers you use on areas that are infected or being treated, because athlete's foot is highly contagious and can easily spread by this kind of contact
• Clean out the bottom of the shower/ bathtub frequently, because the fungus can easily live in the soap residue.
Both prevention and treatment involve diet. Many natural health care practitioners recommend whole foods and raw foods.
• Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed or processed as minimally as possible: this includes most fruit, vegetables, legumes, unprocessed grains, and others, but not if they are treated in any way with pesticides or preservatives (most supermarket fruit is). Buy in bulk from a natural food co-op and avoiding anything prepackaged
• Avoid processed foods, foods high in yeast (bread, beer), diary products, and sugar, even honey
• Probiotics: both yogurt and kefir contain antioxidants but have also been suggested as treatments for fungal infections. Yogurt that has antibacterial compounds like lactobacillus acidophilus, l. bulgaricus, and l. thermophilus that have been shown to help fight infections as well. Kefir is a form of fermented milk that can be made with cow or sheep's milk, and in some cases has been made with soy, rice and coconut milk. In some cases it has a very low amount of alcohol, less than 1%
• Supplements to consider, some of which contain the same compounds as the topical treatments, include vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc, as well as essential fatty acids
The bones in the foot are no different than any other bones in the body when it comes to arthritis. They can develop osteoarthritis from wear and tear to the joints, which usually begins in middle age and progressively worsens. The cartilage in the affected area begins to deteriorate. They can also develop rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease where the immune system attacks the body, in this case the cartilage.
Some people develop post-traumatic arthritis, which follows a wound or fracture, sometimes many years after it happened. This causes redness and swelling in addition to pain.
• Most treatments for arthritis apply
The newest thinking about bunions, the swollen bone that occurs most often directly behind your big toe, is that there may be a genetic component. They are usually caused by badly fitting shoes, and the swelling is from the irritation of the joint. Causes include badly fitting shoes, flat feet, arthritis, wearing high-heeled shoes, and shoes with too tight a point that pushes your toes to a point. Try:
• Wearing shoes with a wider toe box, allowing more room for the toes
• Orthotics (custom-made arch supports) which will realign the bones of the foot
• Paste of marigold extract, made from the flowers. This contains a large amount of flavonoids form the plant itself, which are a natural anti-inflammatory. Tests have shown this works for some patients
The sensation that your feet are burning, often experienced by patients at bedtime, can be due to a large number of conditions. See the Peripheral Neuropathy section below.
• Diabetes, which can cause a similar feeling because of neuropathy in the feet. In this case it can start as numbness and pain. Diabetics must pay special attention to any cut, bruise, callus, sore or break in their skin because of poor circulation in the limbs
• Athlete's foot, when spread over the entire foot (see section above)
• Nutrition, specifically a lack of vitamins B1, B5 (pantothenic acid) and B12, and sometimes zinc
• Deficiencies in the nerves in your feet, which respond well to supplements like vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene
• Alcohol and alcoholism
• A deficiency of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach
• Nerve-related remedies include Omega-3 fatty acids and a cream made from capsaicin, the active ingredient in red pepper, can also calm down nerves; however make sure that you know what condition you are treating firstCorns and Calluses
Corns and calluses are the result of your body reacting to stress on the skin and building up extra layers for protection. Corns are formed of hardened skin, usually on the tops of toes where shoes rub against them. They can also be over extensions of the bones in the toes, possibly caused by squeezing toes into a too-small space. They can also be soft when they occur between the toes, again from friction in a limited space.
Calluses are a thickening of the skin in other areas that rub inside the shoe. Both corns and calluses can also be caused by the way you walk, and some researchers believe that there is a hereditary element as well.
• In both cases make sure that shoes fit (see Bunions)
• Soak your feet in Epsom salts to loosen the corn or callus and remove with a gentle pumice stone. Diabetics and other people with circulatory or nerve problems should consult their podiatrist before doing anything to their feet, however
• Treat the area you've pumiced with vitamin E oil to re-moisturize and protect it
Gout is a form of arthritis that is caused by the crystallization of uric acid in the joint, affecting the feet usually at and behind the big toe. Uric acid can also crystallize in the kidneys as kidney stones, and can cause serious disease, so if the symptoms of gout appear you should have tests done to show your exact level of uric acid (See Gout section for symptoms and remedies).
This describes the arching of the toes, leaving one joint exposed to rub against the shoe. It makes hard calluses that can bleed or become infected. Often the simplest solution is a shoe with a longer toe box (see Shoes).
• See a podiatrist who can tell if the toes are still able to be flattened, usually with a splint
Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis
These are related problems caused by damage to the plantar fascia, the thick connective tissue that runs on the bottom of your foot from the heel to the ball. When it becomes irritated, usually from high-impact sports activities, it can cause pain. This is usually obvious the morning after, when you get out of bed. Walking can be difficult until it stretches out. Besides high-impact sports, irritation to the plantar fascia can be caused by walking barefoot, and in flip-flops or other thin-soled sandals. People with unusually high arches are also susceptible to plantar fasciitis.
Heel spurs occur when the plantar fascia is pulled away from the bone it’s attached to: the body responds by building up a calcium protrusion on the bone under the damaged area, which then presses into the soft tissue around it. Heel spurs occur in both people with high arches and flat feet.
A tight Achilles tendon can also cause plantar fasciitis, because it attaches directly to the fascia. Achilles tendons can become tight because you did not stretch before any kind of physical activity, although they often tighten with age. Women who wear high heeled shoes have this problem when switching to flat shoes, because the high heel allows the tendon to shrink.
Heel spurs, plantar fasciitis and a tight Achilles tendon can all cause general heel pain. Try to identify the specific areas of the foot that hurt at the same time as the heel, which will help in identifying the true cause of your problem.
• Before running or doing other high-impact activities make sure to stretch the feet, legs and especially the calves. Stand away from a wall and put your weight on one bent leg while flexing the foot and calf muscles of the other behind you
• Stretch the plantar fascia by rolling a golf ball or tennis ball under your foot. If you have heel spurs, do this immediately upon arising, before you put weight on your feet – have a ball ready next to your bed!
• Wear shoes that are appropriate for the sport or activity you do
• Wear shoes that provide arch support, or go to your podiatrist and have orthotics (custom arch supports) made
• For heel spurs you must temporarily stop the activities that cause pain and allow them to heal by staying off your feet when possible. You can also put padding in your shoes. You can also cut out a hole in the insoles to accommodate the area where the spur is
• There is some evidence that shooting high energy sound waves, called Extra-corporeal Shock Wave Therapy, at bone and tissue can help it recover and regenerate. This was originally developed the treat kidney stones by breaking them up without surgery, and it was noted that surrounding tissue was positively affected
High Arches or Flat Feet
Arches that are too high or too low cause a balance problem that directly affects your posture and therefore the general physical balance of your body. In flat feet the complete sole of the foot touches the ground, and the natural springing action of the foot does not happen. This condition can be caused by weakened or damaged muscles and ligaments, sometimes from long-term stress, and can also be inherited. High arches are the other end of the spectrum, but cause similar problems. In both cases the problems and remedies include:
• Stress on the ball of the foot, especially at the beginning of the plantar fascia, the thin flat tendon running under the foot
• Heel spurs from high impact on the heel
• Corns, calluses, bunions, hammer toes, ingrown toenails, plantar fasciitis, and other conditions (see sections above and below)
• The fit of the shoe (see Shoes) has to accommodate the part of the foot directly under the laces without constricting it or leaving too much space. Flat feet may require pads, and high arches may require a different system of doing shoelaces: try running one lace from the inside bottom eyelet to the outside top, and the other (much longer) lace back and forth over the arch
Ingrown toenails is another condition related to the fit of shoes and the amount of pressure exerted on the ball of the foot when exercising. This often occurs with people who have bunions, but not necessarily.
• Make sure that there is enough room in the toe part of your shoes (see the advice under Bunions)
This condition affects the metatarsal bones, which are directly above and behind the toes. These bones and the toes take the full weight of every step. Pain can be generally at the front of the foot, but it can also hurt to flex the arch. It can also cause numbness in the toes, as well as shooting pain. Any change in the balance of weight on the feet can cause irritation and inflammation. Some causes:
• Strenuous exercise, including jogging and aerobics
• Stress fractures, especially in the metatarsals themselves
• High arches or flat feet, also a second toe that's longer than your big toe
• Morton's neuroma (see below), a growth around an irritated nerve
• Gout (see our Gout section)
Also called Plantar neuroma or Morton's neuroma, as well as Morton's metatarsalgia, this is a fibrous growth caused by an irritation of the plantar nerves in the ball of the foot, usually between the third and fourth toes, in response to irritated nerve tissue. Neuroma as a general term usually now refers to a tumor, but that is not the case here. It is often caused because the toes are being pushed together, either by tight shoes or by some kind of misalignment. Most patients say that it feels like they are stepping on an electrical cord when walking; it can also cause numbness and in some cases pain. There are other conditions that can produce similar symptoms, such as capsulitis, and inflammation of the ligaments around the joints of the metatarsals, and bursitis, and inflammation of the small sacs that contain synovial fluid. In the case of pain, or any sensation that keeps you from walking, see a podiatrist.
You can also:
• Discard shoes that are too tight or that don't fit your feet with comfort
• Don't wear shoes with more than a 2 inch heel, because the higher the heel the more force is put on the ball of the foot, which is not a natural position
• The more rigid the shoe the better, because this provides support for the foot. This is very important when trying to clear up a neuroma
• Custom-made arch supports, molded to the foot, called orthotics, can help and are available through podiatrists and some chiropractors. They help the alignment of the bones in your foot
• Try icing the area; also try alternating hot and cold (warm water and ice): this helps shrink swelling and move fluids through the area around the nerve
• A soft pad under the ball of the foot can help take some of the pressure off the inflamed area
• Surgery is a last resort, and can leave the foot with a permanent sense of numbness because the affected nerve has to be removed. In most cases correcting the type and fit of shoes has relieved the problem
Misalignments of Pelvis or Spine
Often one imbalance in the body will cause another connected part to hurt.
• A misalignment of the bones and muscles in the back, in the legs and feet, and in the pelvis area can cause the feet to compensate, putting unusual or unintended pressure on them
• This also happens the other way around. When something is wrong with your feet it can cause discomfort or pain in the back, leg, pelvis and even shoulder areas as they compensate to balance the body
• If several areas of your body hurt, in addition to your feet when you walk, your first call should be a chiropractor.
Peripheral neuropathy, a numbness, burning pain (especially at night) or tingling in the hands and feet, is due to nerve damage from disease, injury, infection, exposure to toxins, certain drugs, vitamin deficiency, and is a side effect of some chemotherapy treatments. Diabetes and kidney failure are two of the diseases that can cause peripheral neuropathy.
See the Burning Feet section above for additional causes and nutritional remedies.
Peripheral neuropathy may lessen over time if the underlying cause is treated. Conventional drugs and natural remedies will aid in this process. Patients with neuropathy are generally given CT scans, blood tests, muscle tests, and nerve condition tests, and given pills that they are told they will have to take for the rest of their lives and/or face a lifetime of pain and loss of sensation. We at Health911 feel there are much better options and the testing can be avoided.
One method of treatment for peripheral neuropathy is called MME, magnetic molecular energizer therapy, that uses powerful electromagnetic energy to help the body heal faster. At the moment there are only five clinics that use this therapy. Contact the Advanced Magnetic Research Institute (AMRI) International at 800-265-1119 for more information.
A nutritional supplement that is quite effective in improving symptoms of both diabetic and peripheral neuropathy is alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant. It helps moderate blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for both diabetics and those with hypoglycemia, and it elevates glutathione levels. Glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant molecule.
A severe outbreak of various forms of neuropathy, including peripheral neuropathy, occurred in Cuba between 1992-3. Treating the problem with B-vitamins and folate produced very positive results. Similar problems have been observed at prisoner-of-war camps. Most Western doctors don’t seem to want to treat neuropathy using nutritional supplements, but Health911 recommends this as the first option.