September Articles 2014

How Obesity Affects Your Feet

Maybe you have gained a few extra pounds over the past couple of years. It comes on slowly and you are not always aware of it until your feet start hurting at the end of the day. After all, they carry the weight of your whole body. Experiencing foot pain and swelling is one of the biggest side effects of being overweight.

Many problems that occur in the feet are directly related to carrying even a small amount of extra weight. If you are overweight, the body may try to compensate by changing the way it moves. You may lean forward a bit and put extra weight on the wrong part of the foot. Your feet were designed to carry a normal amount of body weight and any extra will put undue stress on them.

Many people who are overweight as adults develop type 2 diabetes and it is often the cause of leg and foot pain. This is very serious and often older people who do not control their condition may lose all feeling in their legs and feet. It is also possible to develop small sores on the feet, and when you have diabetes, these do not always heal properly which can lead to serious infection.

The extra pressure and stress placed on muscles, joints, and tendons in the feet by extra body weight can also trigger plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissue along the bottom of the foot, and causes pain and stiffness when walking and climbing stairs. Pain caused by plantar fasciitis can be relieved by foot stretches and orthotics inserted into the shoe.

Foot problems triggered by excess body weight may be treated by special attention to footwear. Shoes that properly support the foot – especially the arch and ankle – and allow for good circulation are very important. A podiatrist can help you decide what kind of shoe is best for your feet. Orthotics – special inserts that can be inserted into shoes – can absorb shock, support the arches, and keep the feet properly aligned. These can be found in shoe stores or may be fitted by a podiatrist.

It may also be time to consider taking off a few pounds to prevent diabetes and other life threatening diseases. Your feet will certainly thank you for it and you will feel better in a short amount of time. A water aerobics class at a local gym is a way to get needed exercise without putting any stress on the feet or ankles. Yoga is also an activity that is beneficial both to your feet and your entire body. Don't risk losing your freedom by ignoring foot pain. If you take care of your feet, you can keep your feet and your entire body feeling great.

What Are Ankle/Foot Orthotics?

Orthotics is a medical field concerned with the design, manufacture and use of aids used to support weak limbs or direct the proper function of limbs, in this case the foot and ankle. Ankle-foot orthotics, or AFOs, are braces worn at the ankle that encompass some or all of the foot. Diseases that affect the musculature or weaken the affected area require AFOs to strengthen the muscles or train in the proper direction. Tight muscles that need to be lengthened and loosened also benefit from AFOs.

When we think of diseases that affect the musculature we think of the big boys: muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, polio and multiple sclerosis. We rarely think that arthritis and stroke can affect the musculature or that there are some who "toe in". But whatever trauma affects that musculature, there is a way to correct it. The orthosis helps to control range of motion, provide support by stabilizing walk, correct deformities and manage pain load. A podiatrist would be consulted for those who "toe in", for instance, or an arthritis sufferer whose ankles suffer through walking on the job or perhaps a victim of stroke whose musculature is wasting away and requires strength.

Before the advent of modern orthotic devices, it wasn’t uncommon to see polio victims wearing metal braces from mid thigh to the bottom of the foot, or children who "toed in" wearing metal braces around their ankle and foot. However, both designs and materials have improved dramatically, allowing for new levels of comfort, functionality, and appearance. Many orthotics are now made from plastics in the shape of an L and designed to fit inside a corrective shoe. These can be rigid, buckling at the calf and extending the length of the foot to support the ankle. This same design except with a hinged ankle provides support while walking by normalizing the gait. In the past boots lined with leather and fiberboard provided the rigidity needed for correction and support. Now corrective shoes are available with built up soles to correct the gait or manage pain by sharing it with another area when the foot spreads during walking.

The podiatrist would prescribe this orthosis in the rigid L shape because the foot moves on a hinge. If the hinge isn't functioning as intended due to an injury or malformation, the muscles tighten up, thus making it difficult to flex the foot. When we walk, the foot flexes and muscles stretch. This brace or AFO would support the ankle and musculature during flexion of the foot, in much the same way a knee brace works. Corrective shoes are for people whose feet hit the ground backward, causing tight muscles and arch problems. Wedges and rocker bars on the heels correct the step to heel first and rock onto the ball of the foot, resulting in relaxed musculature and strengthened ankles.

Appearance also counts when we consider a particular support device, especially if the item is intended for regular, daily wear. The L shaped orthotic is contoured to the calf and flesh-colored, fitting into a sneaker or dress shoe. As present, corrective shoes are more attractive than past models, enabling patients wear such devices with greater comfort and confidence.

Barefoot Running

A new trend in running and jogging has popped up recently, called barefoot running. Barefoot running is a popular and growing trend that is just what it sounds – running without shoes. Before deciding to do any running without shoes, it's best to understand how this kind of running affects the feet.

Running without shoes changes the motion of running. Most running is done by landing on the heel of the feet. Running barefoot requires a different way of running; in a barefoot stride landing is done on the front part of the feet. Because of this, the impact shifts from the heels to the front feet. Runners also shorten their strides to create a softer landing.

Running barefoot does have its advantages. When running and landing on the front feet, the impact on the feet and ankle is reduced, which may reduce the incidence of stress injuries. It strengthens muscles in the feet, and also strengthens muscles in the ankles and lower legs that aren't usually worked. Overall balance of the body is improved and there is greater sensory input from the feet to the rest of the body, making overall position and motion less stressful on the body. It has been found that in countries in which some of the population regularly wear shoes and some do not, numbers of foot and ankle injuries are much higher in those who wear shoes.

People hearing about barefoot running for the first time are skeptical about it, and there are good reasons for skepticism. Running barefoot certainly has its drawbacks, the obvious being no protection of the feet when running. This makes it likely that when runners land on sharp or rough objects,  scrapes, bruises, and cuts on feet will result. Blisters will form when beginning this kind of running especially, you may have plantar fascia problems. Landing on the front feet constantly also increases the risk of getting Achilles tendonitis.

So what can runners do to make barefoot running safe? It’s best to make a slow transition from running shoes to barefoot running. The body is used to wearing shoes so to slowly transition to bare feet, start by walking barefoot for a distance and then increase walking distance. Once the feet begin to adjust, try walking and then jogging and gradually increase the distance. If you have foot problems talk to the doctor first before attempting barefoot running. When starting out, it may also be helpful to begin by running on pavement or other consistent surfaces to avoid sharp or rough objects. Minimalist running shoes may also be an option, as they allow for many of the benefits of barefoot running while also protecting the feet from cuts and scrapes.

What is a Podiatrist

The branch of medicine that is focused on the treatment, diagnosis, and study of disorders of the lower leg, ankle and foot is referred to as podiatry. Because people often spend a great deal of their time on their feet, many problems in this area can occur. A person seeks help from the field of podiatry when they need treatment for heel spurs, bunions, arch problems, deformities, ingrown toenails, corns, foot and ankle problems, infections, and problems with the foot that are related to diabetes and additional diseases.

To treat problems of the foot, ankle or lower leg, a podiatrist may prescribe physical therapy, drugs, perform surgery on lower extremity fractures. Individuals may also be recommended to wear corrective shoe inserts, custom-made shoes, plaster casts and strappings in order to correct deformities.

When trying to gather information on a patient problem, a scanner or force plate may be used in order to design orthotics. During this procedure, patients are told to walk across a plate that is connected to a computer; the computer then takes a scan of the foot and indicates weight distribution and pressure points. The computer readouts will give the podiatrist information to help them determine the correct treatment plans.

Diagnosis is also provided through laboratory tests and x-rays. Through the foot, the first signs of serious problems such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis can show up. For example, individuals that have diabetes may frequently have problems such as infections and foot ulcers because they experience poor circulation in the foot area. A podiatrist can then have consultations with patients when symptoms arise and referrals will be made to specialists that handle the greater health problems.

Some podiatrists have their own solo small private practices or clinics where they have a small staff and administrative personnel but many work within group practices. They usually spend time performing surgery in ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals or visiting patients in nursing homes. They typically spend between 30 to 60 hours of week working. Some podiatrists specialize in public health, orthopedics, surgery, or primary care. Some other fields include specialties in geriatrics, dermatology, pediatrics, diabetic foot care and sports medicine.

Some podiatrist specialists complete extra training in the area of foot and ankle reconstruction that result from the effects of physical trauma or diabetes. There are also surgeons that perform surgery of a cosmetic nature to correct bunions and hammertoes.

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