The foot is a complex mechanical genius, with 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons. Our feet are our trusty servants, providing a foundation upon which to “take a stand” and move forward in life.
But most of us tend to take our feet for granted, and rarely give them the time of day — until they hurt, that is. And hurt they will, if neglected. According to a report issued earlier this year by Harvard Health Publications, there are at least 300 different types of foot problems, and three out of four Americans will suffer some kind of foot ailment in their life.
Feet hurt for many reasons, from poor alignment, weakness and fatigue to injury and disease.
The only way to definitively identify a soft-tissue injury in the foot — or anywhere else in the body — is to get evaluated. Only then can you determine what type of treatment(s) might be useful, for example massage, friction therapy, Chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture or if more invasive therapies are needed like injections or surgery. Many diseases, including Raynaud’s, congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and gonorrhea can cause swollen, painful feet. For sore feet that are not associated with a serious injury or disease condition, a combination of basic self-care and targeted reflexology techniques can often provide great relief. As a rule of thumb you should always try conservative treatments first, before medications, injections or surgeries.
Self-Care Routine for Aching Feet
Many people have reduced or completely eliminated their foot pain by following a dedicated self-care routine. Below are some key actions that get results.
First of all, rest. Stop doing whatever it is that aggravates your pain. If a certain pair of shoes causes you pain, stop wearing them. If daily runs on pavement end in pain, find another way to exercise. Listen to your body’s cues and discontinue any activity that interferes with the healing process.
You should also consider ice massage. This is a simple way to reduce inflammation. Fill a small paper cup with water and freeze it. Gently move the cup over and around the injured area, stopping when the tissue begins to feel numb. Keep the motion constant, so you’re not holding the cup stationary in any one spot.
You might also try stretching. Start by stretching your toes. Bring all your toes into extension and then grasp one toe and stretch it slowly into full extension for a moment or two. Do this with each toe four or five times. Next, take each toe and bring it into flexion all the way. Then grasp two toes at a time and gently stretch them apart for a few seconds. Repeat with all the toes. Then go on to stretch all the joints in the foot and ankle, the muscles of the lower legs, the hamstrings and the quadriceps. Use a towel, rope or stretching strap if you need to.
Roll the arch of your foot on a golf ball. Best to perform while seated to avoid using to much pressure or falling (you don’t want to create more injury!).
Another important step is strengthening. To strengthen the muscles of your foot, toss a dozen large marbles on the floor, sit in a chair, and pick up a marble with your toes. Then cross that leg over the other, tailor-fashion, and remove the marble. Repeat until you have picked up all the marbles and then switch to your other foot and pick up all the marbles again.
It is also important to develop better footwear habits. Many of our foot-related woes are caused, either directly or indirectly, by the shoes we wear. Consider taking some of the these simple steps:
- Change your shoes throughout the day, so as not to tire individual muscles; call on a variety of muscles to share the load.
- Explore alternatives to high heels. These shoes do more damage to the body than we have time to discuss in this article. If you wear them frequently, they may well be the primary cause of your foot pain.
- Replace your shoes when they begin to deteriorate and the sole or heel becomes uneven. This is particularly important for athletic shoes.
- Always wear supportive and cushioned shoes on ceramic, concrete or wood floors or when going on long walks or running. This includes middle-of-the-night jaunts to the bathroom. Adult feet may require custom orthotics for arch support or to correct imbalances to counteract years of gravitational force.
- Look into purchasing Yoga/Pilates sandals to wear around the house. They spread and lengthen the toes.
If you live near a beach and take barefoot walks, you can invite the muscles of your feet to strengthen in a healthy, natural way. Walking or gently running on sand is excellent for the health of your feet. You can also establish morning and evening routines for your foot health. Before getting out of bed in the morning, remember to stretch and massage your feet. Then, when you’re relaxing in the evening, try a combination of the following:
- Spread your toes. Foam pedicure separators or gel toe separators do the trick.
- Roll your foot on a footsie roller or golf ball. This will elongate and stretch the tissue on the plantar surface.
- Soak your feet in warm water and ¼ cup of sea salt or Epsom salts, and then give yourself a short reflexology session (as described below) before going to bed.
Evening Reflexology Protocol
Reflexology is a non-invasive complementary modality involving the use of alternating pressure applied to reflexes in the feet. Reflexology reduces tension in the muscle tissue and improves circulation of the blood, lymph and neurons, resulting in reduced pain and better functioning.
Following your foot soak, fully extend, flex and separate your toes. Take each stretch as far as you can. Roll your foot and ankle in clockwise and counter clockwise circles. Range-of-motion exercises will increase blood flow to the feet, loosen up the joints and relax the connective tissue.
Use a knuckle to “walk” the bottom surface of the heel. Stop on any sensitive points and apply slow micro-friction to break up adhesions of excess nerve and/or scar tissue that has been laid down in response to trauma.
Use your thumb to apply rhythmical, alternating pressure to the remaining bottom surface of the foot. Imagine your thumb as a little inchworm, taking small “steps” over the entire surface of the foot. Stop on sensitive points and apply micro-friction.
Use your fingers to walk the top side of the foot and work on any points that get your attention.
Finish with ice massage, followed by massage with a natural moisturizer, like coconut oil or Glysolid (available at Tranquility). For a treat add organic essential oils that have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. (Examples include German chamomile, peppermint, ravintsara, helichrysum, and lavender.)
Drink some water, turn off the light and go to sleep! Remember to wear footwear with arch support if you get up in the middle of the night and stretch your feet and calves before rising in the morning.
Remember, when you treat your feet well, they tend to return the favor.
This article was reprinted from http://www.massagetoday.com