One of the simplest pleasures of summer is the freedom to kick back, kick off your shoes and let the warm breeze whisper through your toes. Dr. Antonia McClune, a foot and ankle specialist at The Portland Clinic, fully approves of happy feet. Here in the Northwest, where summer always feels too short, we should embrace every laid-back, blissful barefoot moment. But when it’s time to get moving, make sure you slide those toes into some comfy, supportive shoes.
Walking around in bare feet, thin sandals or flip flops all day won’t keep your feet happy in the long run. It can put you at higher risk for heel and forefoot pain, stress fractures and other problems that could seriously sideline your summer plans. Four injuries, in particular, spring up more often in the summer, when poor footwear and increased activity put extra stress on the feet:
Plantar fasciitis: This common cause of intense heel pain can escalate if you go barefoot or wear thin, flat sandals. That’s because the plantar fascia — the band of tissue that runs from your heel to your toes — is what supports your arches. Increased activity without increased arch support puts extra strain on the fascia, leading to inflammation and heel pain. Other issues can cause heel pain, as well, so it’s important to see a doctor if the problem is ongoing.
Metatarsalgia: High-impact activities combined with poor-fitting shoes can cause inflammation in the ball of the foot, where the long metatarsal bones connect with the toes. With metatarsalgia, you might feel burning or shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in the ball of your foot. These symptoms get worse when you walk barefoot or on hard surfaces, but they usually respond well to rest, ice, anti-inflammatories and better shoes.
Sesamoiditis: This injury causes pain, swelling and redness in the ball of the foot, just under the big toe joint, near two tiny bones called sesamoids. The sesamoids act like pulleys for your tendons, helping you push off with your big toe when you’re walking or running. They absorb a lot of the impact on the ball of the foot during activity, and can be injured with repetitive impact. Once they’re injured, it can be difficult to rest them enough to heal.
Stress fractures: As the name implies, these small cracks in the bones of the feet can be caused by repeated stress on the foot, such as a sudden increase in activity. Swelling, tenderness, bruising, and pain that intensifies during activity could be signs of a stress fracture. Female athletes, older people with thinner bones, and people who carry extra weight are at higher risk for stress fractures, but they can happen to anyone.
To avoid injuries like these, Dr. McClune recommends four smart steps for happy feet:
Do calf stretches: Daily calf stretches may be the single best thing you can do to prevent foot pain. To do a calf stretch, stand facing a wall, hands flat on the wall, arms straight in front of you. With one foot forward and the other back (as though you’ve just taken a stride forward), slowly bend your front leg, keeping your back leg straight and both heels flat on the floor, until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs.
Ease into activity: Train and prepare properly before starting a new activity. Start slowly and increase the time and intensity of your activity gradually.
Show some support: Wear supportive shoes — and inserts, if needed — most of the time, and always during physical activity.
Listen to your feet: If your foot starts to hurt, ease off of activity for a while and treat it to some RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation — plus anti-inflammatories if needed. If the pain is intense and persistent, and especially if your foot is red, bruised or swollen, see a foot specialist.
Getting prompt and proper treatment is important to make sure a foot injury doesn’t get worse. A foot specialist can help you find out exactly what’s going on with your foot and can recommend a variety of therapeutic strategies to keep your downtime to a minimum and get you back on your feet as soon as safely possible.