When warmer weather approaches, we make plans to get our bodies bathing suit-ready. But aren’t we forgetting something in these physically fit efforts? Look down. Yes, your feet need your attention, too, whether you’re ready to slip into flip flops, move your exercising to outdoors, or just put one foot in front of the other in a healthy way.
The National Institutes of Health observes that all those years of wear and tear on our feet, poorly trimmed toenails, wearing shoes that don’t fit, poor circulation and disease can create problems. Keeping your feet happy not only enables you to get where you are going in comfort but also be vigilant about other health problems. “Foot problems are sometimes the first sign of more serious medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and nerve or circulatory disorders,” NIH advises. “Check your feet often, looking for cuts, blisters, or ingrown toenails. Talk with a doctor if you notice numbness or severe pain in your feet.”
While you do your feet check, there are some steps for your everyday well-being.
Home care: Wash your feet daily in warm, not hot, water. Moisturize on top and bottom (but not between toes to avoid fungal infection). To avoid ingrown toenails, cut toenails straight across without trimming them too short. Wait until your feet are dry before putting on clean socks and shoes. Wear shoes outside to protect your feet. Inspect your feet; visit your healthcare provider if there’s a problem.
Proper fit: The shoes should be designed for the type of activity you will be doing. Select shoes with flat, non-skid soles, good heel support, enough room for your toes, and a cushioned arch that’s not too high or too thick. Do the shoes fit you well and give you good support? Replace the shoes when worn – that’s when the tread is worn out, your feet feel tired and/or your shins, knees or hips hurt after activity.
While sitting: Put your feet up to help circulation. Avoid crossing your legs; if you do, reverse and uncross regularly. If possible, get up and walk around periodically. Try these simple exercises while sitting to aid circulation: Rotate your ankles in one direction and then the other. When you can be in bare feet, curl your toes, then spread them out.
Summer foot care: The American Podiatric Medicine Association (APMA) offers tips on keeping feet healthy in warm weather, including:
• Limit walking barefoot as it exposes feet to sunburn, as well as plantar warts, athlete’s foot, ringworm, and other infections and also increases risk of injury to your feet.
• Wear shoes or flip-flops around the pool, to the beach, in the locker room and even on the carpeting or in the bathroom of your hotel room to prevent injuries and limit the likelihood of contracting any bacterial infections.
• Apply sunscreen all over your feet, especially the tops and fronts of ankles, and reapply after you’ve been in the water.
• Drink plenty of water throughout the day, which not helps keep you hydrated but also minimizes foot swelling caused by the heat.
• Certain types of footwear are needed for beach or water activities. Find out what you need and if the footwear gets wet, let it dry completely before wearing again to prevent bacteria growth.
Flip-flops: Don’t flip for any flip-flops and remember that they aren’t right for all activities. Keep these APMA pointers in mind in selecting and using flip-flops.
• Pick higher quality flip-flops, such as leather rather than vinyl or rubber. This minimizes blisters and other irritations.
• Make sure the flip-flops fit and that your feet don’t hang off the edge of the shoe.
• Check the fit of the straps—not too loose and not too tight.
• Don’t ignore an irritation at the toe thong. That can result in blisters or infection.
• The flip-flop should gently bend at the ball of the feet (but don’t pick shoes that fold in half.
• Take a moment to look over the flip-flops when you pull them from your closet for the season. Discard when they become worn.
• Flip-flops should not be worn for certain activities as they lack the support and protection for long walks, sports, yard work and other such activities.
Sandals: The New York State Podiatric Medicine Association notes that sandals can be a good-looking alternative to flip-flops but also should be chosen with care:
• Flats and slides are comfy and convenient, but prolonged wearing and inadequate support and cushioning may lead to arch and heel pain. Use cushioned inserts to improve sandals’ support, and choose styles that have soles that don’t twist excessively.
• Some styles of gladiator sandals may irritate the toes and cause calluses on the heels. Select natural materials like soft leather and ensure that toes or heels don’t t hang off edges.
• Platforms and high heels can be risky for ankle injuries. The better choice: Heels less than two inches high have more stability.
• Select rubber soles with good traction for wedges or espadrilles.
• Peep-toe sandals can put pressure on your feet, causing bunions and hammertoes over time. Wear them for short periods only, and use toe inserts to improve comfort.
• Ankle-wrap sandals often lack true ankle support, and friction from the straps may cause blisters. Choose sandals with straps made of soft, breathable material like leather, cotton, or satin. Never wrap the straps too tightly.
Hiking: A hike can create a wonderful sense of well being, as well as terrific memories of fauna, flora and vistas. But not if you have the wrong boots or shoes, the wrong fit and your feet hurt. Here are some tips to keep your trek on the right track footwear-wise. Consider the nature of your hike
• Is it a short trek carrying light or no backpack load? Is the route on a well-defined trail? Then a hiking shoe may be appropriate. It is more flexible and lighter than a boot but offers less support.
• Setting out on a terrain that is a bit more rugged but still short in duration?
Consider a day hiking shoe or boot.
However, if you are new to hiking and don’t have the strength built up on your legs, you may wish to choose a shoe or boot that has more support, cut high and is heavier. In such a case, it’s better to sacrifice speed to prevent possible injury.
• Will your hike extend over more than a day, off the beaten trail and require a heavier backpack? Take a look at sturdier, heavier, higher-cut boots. For longer trips or hikes in wet or muddy areas, check for waterproofing. Once you have picked the proper type, make sure it fits you—not too tight, not loose, but having wiggle room for your toes.
• If you use orthotics, try the boots on with these in place.
• And don’t forget to wear the same socks that you will have on the hike.
• Visiting a shop that specializes in hiking will enable you to gain the advice and get help with the fit. As feet may swell by day’s end, you may wish to try on the boots at that time. • Before you buy the boots, walk around including on an incline.
• Before you set out on your journey, spend some time in these boots, getting used to them, breaking them in, and ensuring they meet your needs—preferably a couple of weeks for heavier boots.
These tips will help keep you on the go and enjoy the warm weather, but sometimes problems can arise. The state association reminds that “If you experience persistent foot pain, see a podiatrist. Feet shouldn’t hurt all the time, and if they do, it may indicate injury, irritation, or illness.”
The necessary luxury: The pedicure
Getting a pedicure is a time-honored path for women and now men to unwind while keeping our feet well cared for in the preparation of sandal weather. A pedicure makes you feel spoiled and pampered, especially if the person giving you the pedicure is skilled at massaging your feet and legs.
You walk away feeling impeccable and invigorated. You will be in famous company by getting a pedicure as the ancient Egyptians and Cleopatra were doing pedicures at least 2,400 years ago and she had them regularly.
A good pedicure can be done in about 40-50 minutes on average, from entering the establishment for your service to drying—and you must dry well or suffer the misfortune of a smudge. Many of the Capital Region salons now have wonderful massage chairs to add to the affordable luxury.
Make certain that the establishment you use has the water filtered and sanitized or chlorinated like the water in a swimming pool. It can be bubbly or still.
While you soak and enjoy the chair massage, your technician will begin to work your toes and feet. Take this time to examine your toes nails (naked from color) for potential dangers. Your nail technician should also point out these potential dangers but do not hesitate to look, snap a picture and share with your dermatologist if you see something odd.
Many specialists discourage rounded toenails on the grounds that they can become ingrown. So direct your technician if you see them going in that direction.
Calluses can get thick and crack open, which is very sore and can lead to an infection if there is a split in the skin. You should be pumiced and have lotion applied to help with calluses. If you run or speed walk, you may want your calluses left to help with the activity. You should know how much defense you need for your body for such activity.
Now, sit and back and enjoy the best part—the massage of your feet and calves. Some local nail technicians are now finishing with a short shoulder massage as well. Now that is just plain brilliant!
Discover the health benefits of massage therapy
The benefits of touch have long been associated with relaxation and a sense of well being. Increasing numbers of people are seeking massage as a way to relax. Forty percent of women and 29 percent of men reported having a massage in the past five years, according to a Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
Health care providers and hospitals, too, are embracing massage therapy with growing appreciation for its effectiveness in helping patients. The AMTA’s Industry Fact Sheet shows that 76 percent of massage therapists received referrals from health care professionals, up from 69 percent. Why? An increasing number of studies indicate that massage therapy produces beneficial results in relieving pain, lowering blood pressure, and improving circulation, among other benefits.
“Massage therapy has moved mainstream, but it’s rooted in medicine,” says Susan Zolvinski, allied health chairperson at Brown Mackie College – Michigan City. “I learned the basics of massage therapy in nursing school 30 years ago. A simple back rub can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and de-stress a patient. It’s a good complement to the wonderful treatments we have.” Today, the field has expanded dramatically, with many different sub-specialties within the more than 300 different types of massage.
“At first, it was general physicians giving referrals, then chiropractors and physical therapists recognized the benefits. Now massage therapy is integrated into many different treatment plans,” says Melissa DeFrancesco, program director for health and therapeutic massage therapy at Brown Mackie College – South Bend. Nearly every age group is represented in the use of massage therapy. It is used in treating the elderly, athletes and people with specific diseases like cancer or muscular dystrophy, infants, and individuals who suffer from chronic pain.
Even with the buzz generated by this up-and-coming profession, many people don’t realize just what massage therapy entails. “We work with muscles, tendons, ligaments that attach to muscles, and fascia or connective tissue and the lymphatic system, which serves as the body’s sewage and waste disposal system,” says DeFrancesco.
The science of massage
“A lot of science goes into it,” says Zolvinski. “The beauty of it is combining art with science. We take knowledge of how the body works and functions, and apply the different massage therapy modalities to create a specific plan to help each individual. Every massage is different.”
For instance, massage therapy is commonly used in treating breast cancer. “When the lymph system is compromised due to mastectomy, stimulation is important to help fend off lymph edema, which is painful swelling. We apply gentle, constant pressure to help redirect fluid past an area where lymph nodes have been removed. Creating a ‘detour’ helps to move fluid along, thereby reducing swelling,” continues Zolvinski.
The rise of massage therapy diploma programs is designed to meet the growing demand for professionals. A comprehensive program prepares students with knowledge of anatomy, physiology, finger-pressure techniques and the use of complementary aids such as heat and ice. Course components also help students develop practical skills to assess joint quality and muscle strength, create individualized treatment plans, maintain client relationships and manage the business aspects of the profession.
Massage therapy appeals to many people because of the flexibility it allows. Often pursued as a second career, a qualified massage therapist can seek work at salons and spas, fitness centers, medical facilities, hotels, airports and cruise ships, to name a few. The majority are self-employed, working independently.