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Linda Mundorff

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January 2010

Food Handling, Cooking, and Storage


Foot Health - The Natural Way

January 2009
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

The feet have the tremendous task of bearing the entire weight of the body. This task can easily be compromised by diseases and disorders of the muscular skeleton components of the feet. Individuals who suffer from arthritic conditions, foot deformities, and gait-related problems are at risk for fall-related injuries. In addition, the strain of carrying around extra weight, as during pregnancy can result in pain and walking difficulty.

The feet have an extra layer of protective cushiony skin, which sheds often, and without daily attention, will become dry, rough, and cracked. Our feet have glands that produce about twelve gallons of sweat per year. For some, foot perspiration can be a problem causing embarrassing odor and wetness. This moisture is quickly absorbed by the sock which keeps the feet wet; and moist feet become soft feet, soft feet has a greater tendency to develop blisters.

To circumvent this problem, purchase socks that contain moisture wicking material such as a cotton-blend (Although cotton has great absorbency it doesn't allow the moisture to evaporate). The blend should be made of Thermolite, CoolMax or Holofil. And during winter, wear wool socks; its natural fibers provides warmth even when wet.

Socks are not all are created equally: Some socks are too tight around the calf, too big around the foot, or act as a tourniquet around the knee. For example, the sock that falls down the leg(s) or bunch up into the shoe exposing the back of the foot and heel. Socks that are too large will result in footwear feeling too tight and also cause friction; friction can result in painful blisters. Conversely, socks that are too small will restrict proper circulation to the foot and cause the feet to become hot and sweaty. You would never buy a pair of shoes that were too tight or binding. So why buy a sock that feels the same way? A proper fitting sock should be smooth against the skin, allow for proper temperature regulation, and not contain material that can irritate, poke, or itch. Also, toes need room to wiggle in a sock just as they are needed in the toe box of shoes.

I suggest you purchase gender-specific socks. Gender-specific sock wear are specifically designed for either the female or male foot and further categorized by child and adult. A child sock is not one-size-fits-all, a child's foot needs to be monitored - as the foot grows so should the socks. A female sock is made for the smaller foot, the more rounded toe box, and the narrower heels than her male counterpart. Lastly, unisex socks are not designed for both male and female feet because size is determined by the model of a male's foot.

During puberty the feet experience the greatest growth, with structural changes to the feet impacted by a number of causes: pregnancy, weight gain, and the normal changes resulting from the aging process. As we age our feet usually widen, and so for example, wearing a size 6M for most of one's adult life might reflect a width change of EE later in life. Also important is to have the feet measured each time a new pair of shoes is bought. Just because you are a size 7M in a sneaker doesn't mean you are also a size 7M in a dress shoe, boot, or sandal. Always try on shoes later in the day as feet swell; try on both shoes as one foot is usually slightly larger than the other.

Individuals who continue to ignore foot pain due to ill-fitting shoes will eventually show signs of bone deformity in the shape of bunions, hammertoes, corns and calluses. Surprisingly most people, especially women, wear shoes that do not fit correctly. The shoe is either too narrow, too wide, slides back and forth, pinches in-between the toes or on the top of the foot. The toes should freely move around the toe-box of the shoe and not be pushed against each other. There should be at least 1/2 inch of space between the large toe and the front of the shoe, and wiggle room above the toes and the top of the shoe. Never buy shoes that hurt, even if a little - don't make the mistake of thinking that shoes have to be broken in.

It is not the shoe that gets broken in but your foot. If the shoes hurt in the store they are going to hurt worse outside when worn all day. It is not a cost-savings measure to purchase the cheaper man-made-material shoe, which doesn't stretch and traps air instead of circulating it. The damage that results from such a poorly made shoe will lead to deformities of the toes. Footwear should be replaced when showing signs of wear, such as: holes; rundown soles, worn-away cushion-insoles, and uneven heel wear. It really doesn't pay to repair these shoes as the availability of stores like DSW, and Off-Broadway Shoes, offer excellent quality shoes at a fraction of their original price.

The type of sock and footwear worn will offer little benefit if basic foot hygiene is amiss. Feet need to be kept clean and dry. To prevent ingrown toenails the nails must be clipped and filed regularly. The bottom of the foot should be smooth. But because the feet shed the top layer of skin often, proper maintenance is required to prevent rough cracked feet which provide a perfect opportunity for germs to get a foot-hold (no pun intended). Healthy feet not feel hot and sweaty; nor should they feel itchy, be discolored, or have a foul odor. The toenails should be smooth and soft not hard, brittle and overgrown. Watch for fungal infections which thrive in moist environments.

Lastly, but so important, a child's foot presents its own set of special needs and starts in infancy. Think of an infant's foot as a ball of clay. The shape of the foot will begin to mold as the baby takes his first step. Those first crucial steps should be unencumbered by footwear. The exceptions include cold weather, when the child is walking outside, in restrooms, or other public areas when you would want to protect the feet. Learning to walk is made easier if the toddler is barefooted, because the barefoot can easily determine the appropriate way to hit the floor while experiencing the texture and contours of the ground. This process is inhibited if the feet are cramped into poor fitting or badly made shoes. A walking-toddler's first shoe should be purchased from a specialty store such as Stride-Rite or Buster-Brown. These employees are specially trained, they will measure both feet and observe the toddler's walk and gait to properly assess any problems. It is so important to model the benefits of good foot maintenance early on.

In conclusion, don't take your feet for granted. You only have one pair of feet, treat them well and they will treat you well for years to come.

Disclaimer:Dr. Mundorff is a Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies can actually be contraindicated in many health conditions, with certain prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities.