The human foot and its function are incredibly detailed and complex and very much influenced by the shoes we wear. When walking or running, the foot has two basic functions, to act as a shock absorber (which on today’s surfaces can be very hard and unyielding) and to be a rigid lever and stable base for propulsion. These two functions are influenced by age, flexibility, body type, foot type, genetics and importantly, footwear.
The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, and a network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue.
According to foot carer Frank De Lorenzo, one of the main causes of foot pain is wearing ill-fitting shoes. “Wearing high-heeled shoes can often cause foot pain because they place a great deal of pressure on the toes,” he says. “You can also develop foot pain if you become injured during high-impact exercise or sport.”
By the age of 50, most people have walked the equivalent of circling the earth three times (at the equator) and although feet are built to take this punishment in their stride, problems can develop over time. Frank, who runs The Foot Man in Colac, says nearly 80 per cent of adults say they have had a foot ailment, and half experience foot pain. “Pain is a sign of trouble, so don't procrastinate about seeing a foot specialist,” he says.
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Common foot problems include:
Plantar fasciitis is a condition suffered by a large proportion of the population, and can be mild to severe pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel, a sharp, shooting pain in the heel when you first step down on your foot in the morning, which subsides after a few minutes of walking, or heel pain after (not during) exercise.
A tough, protective ligament (the plantar fascia) that runs from the heel bone to the base of the toes acts as a shock absorber and support for the arch of the foot. Over time, small tears develop, and the tissue becomes inflamed. You're more likely to develop plantar fasciitis if you have high or low arches; are obese, overweight or gain weight suddenly; have tight Achilles tendons; or wear shoes with poor arch support or soles that are too soft.
A misalignment of the bones in the big toe causes an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. The constant pressure of too-narrow shoes can cause a bunion, while an inherited foot type can also predispose someone to bunions.
Other common foot conditions are calluses, corns, ingrown toenails, and pain in the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia). “To a degree, all these conditions can be caused by poor fitting footwear, over worn, old and out of shape footwear, or footwear with not enough stability or support,” says Frank.