The foot is an engineering marvel--26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles that support your body for a lifetime. Instead of coddling our feet, though, many of us make their difficult job even harder. We all know about stressors such as badly fitting shoes and high heels. But did you know that excess weight is also tough on your feet? A study of people who lost an average of 90 pounds after bariatric surgery found that their foot pain complaints dropped 83%.
Here are common aches and pains--and easy foot pain cures to keep your feet healthy and strong.
A Stiff Big Toe
You could have...osteoarthritis
Though experts don't know how many people have OA of the big toe, they agree it is more common as we pass the half-century mark. "Because you push off the big toe with every step, it gets lots of wear and tear," explains Erika Schwartz, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. As the joint's cartilage wears down, it may feel stiff or hurt when you walk, a condition dubbed hallux limitus. Eventually, the joint may stop moving altogether--a painful condition called hallux rigidus. Some people also develop an overgrowth of bone, or a bone spur, on top of the joint, which many patients mistake for a bunion.
Treat it right: See a doctor as soon as you suspect a problem, says Bob Baravarian, MD, codirector of the University Foot and Ankle Institute in Los Angeles and chief of foot and ankle surgery at Santa Monica/UCLA and Orthopedic Hospital. At this point, he says, you may be able to control the OA with shoes that are long enough and have a deep enough toe box to keep your big toe from rubbing against the side of the shoe. A rigid sole should also help, as it prevents your big toe from bending and twisting.
At an early stage, exercises help you regain range of motion, says Hylton B. Menz, PhD, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. His recommendation: Place a towel on the floor and put your foot on it, keeping your heel flush with the towel's near edge. Using your toes, grip the fabric, moving it bit by bit toward your heel. Repeat 5 times. Do this 3 times a week until symptoms subside.
You can also ask your doctor about OTC or prescription shoe inserts and medication, such as ibuprofen or a cortisone injection. Surgery is another option, says Baravarian. Depending on the type of operation you have, recovery time can vary from 1 to 2 months.