Plantar Fasciitis, bunions and hammertoes are the leading causes of foot pain. Beyond the pain itself the effects on health can be devastating. One quarter of Americans say the main reason they don’t exercise or get enough activity is due to foot pain.
The feet are nature’s most intricately designed joint with 26 bones making 33 joints in total. How you walk, your posture and your footwear all effect the health of your feet. Stretching, activity and diet are also important in preventing and minimizing causes of foot pain.
Let’s look at the top causes of foot pain and integrative treatment approaches to each.
Plantar Fasciitis leads to pain along the sole of your foot and often is felt as heel pain. The pain comes from inflammation in the ligament which connects to the heel.
Pressure on the heel and soft tissues combined with faulty footwear is the main culprit behind Plantar Fasciitis. If you spend long hours on your feet you want to make sure you have the right kind of shoes to properly support your arch and have some cushioning affect.
Treatments are designed to reduce pressure and lower the inflammation. Having an inflammatory diet can exacerbate plantar fasciitis so making diet changes to lower inflammation is one of the first things we look at.
Anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet include:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (fish oil, krill oil)
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Fermented vegetables
Also, supplementing with magnesium can be very helpful to relax the tendons in your foot, reducing the pain.
Here some helpful exercise tips for plantar fasciitis
- Wall stretches benefit the calf muscle, elongating it
- Press your foot on a tennis ball into the sole
- Grab a towel with your toes and pick it up to strengthen the ligaments
- Stretch the calf while seated
- Use a belt for extra stretch
Surgery is not a commonly recommended solution for plantar fasciitis.
Here’s a helpful exercise demonstration video.
Bunions are caused by displacement of the metatarsal bones and is largely an inherited condition. The big toe moves toward the other toes resulting in a bump near the bottom of the big toe on the side of your foot. So your foot is effectively wider, making many common shoes and heels very uncomfortable and further worsens the bunion.
Surgical correction of bunions is a common procedure. However, this requires lengthy (and painful) rehabilitation and ongoing therapy to maintain the effects. In many cases surgery may be unnecessary.
What’s interesting is that bunions do not generally exist in barefoot populations of the world. Going barefoot whenever possible can be an alternative way to prevent and correct bunions over time.
You can ease your way into going barefoot more often, starting with softer, more forgiving surfaces such as grass, sand and carpet.
Heel Raises and Toe Crunches as demonstrated above are also common ways to treat bunions.
Hammer Toe Pain
Hammertoe is affects the second, third and fourth toes. The join in the toes gets bent from compression of the smaller foot muscles, usually due to poor-fit shoes. Heredity can play a role as well.
The toe joint is prone to pressure and this causes pain, inflammation, corns and calluses. The toes then lose flexibility. Surgery is one option to correct hammertoe but like bunion surgery it can be an arduous recovery and you have to be very careful to not put much pressure on it for at least 6 weeks.
There are some exercises that can help with hammer toe.
- Toe extensions. This is best done with assistance. Your helper will grasp your foot with both hands, and gently flex your toes toward the sole of your foot to stretch the extensor tendons at the top of your foot.
- Plantar flexion. Similar to the toe extension, the toes are flexed so that the knuckles at the top of the foot are clearly seen. Your helper can augment the stretch by placing a thumb into the metatarsal arch, gently pushing up, while gently flexing your toes down. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Toe flexion. Grasp the end of your hammertoe, and stretch it to elongate the flexor tendon.
Toenail fungus is a stubborn condition that causes thickening and discoloring of the toenail and can be painful. It can also lead to secondary infections. Typical treatments include antifungal drugs and laser treatment. There are however alternative treatments that more safe and lower cost.
Some of those treatments are:
- Topical applications such as tea tree oil, Thieves oil and Neem oil can be applied to the nail after debridement with a nail file to get the ointment into the nail. While not studied, it does seem to help according to patient feedback.
- Limit your time wearing socks and shoes, allow your feet to be in a dry environment. In particular let your toes get plenty of sun exposure which has a natural anti-fungal effect, it takes several months sometimes but stick with it.
- Submerge your feet in saltwater with sea salt, or better yet the ocean
- Fungi thrive on sugar, reduce your consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates