|“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” Romans 10:5|
Nowhere is the miracle of the foot more clear than watching the human body in motion. The combination of 26 bones, 33 joints, 112 ligaments, and a network of tendons, nerves, and blood vessels all work together to establish the graceful synergy involved in running. The balance, support, and propulsion of a jogger’s body all depend on the foot.
God has made many beautiful things, but I don’t think any of us would include our feet in the top ten. To God, they are beautiful when they carry the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of redemption and forgiveness to all who believe and accept Jesus Christ’s finished work on Calvary. The Hebrew word “nahad,” does not mean “cute” or “pretty.” It means becoming, perfectly appropriate, used as designed…”perfectly fitting.” It is what God had in mind for our feet. The same way fruit was designed to eat and flowers were meant for color and scent our world, your feet were designed to go places. When they go into the world of men and women with the message of good news and peace with God, God calls them beautiful. Your feet may take you faster down the road than anyone else, you may have bigger shoes that other people cannot fill, but that means nothing to our eternal frame. If you feet take you to someone in need and with God’s help, you enable him or her to walk with God, then your feet are being used for a purpose that matters for all eternity. Those feet are beautiful.
My father told me about a trip he took to Pakistan several years ago. Their culture requires visitors, upon entering a house or temple, to remove and leave their footwear at the main door. My father, with a group of several other pastors, entered a Christian church implanted by a missionary, removed their shoes and proceeded inside. He spoke of a young woman who requested she stay and guard the shoes. Wow, those American shoes that housed the feet of those men were precious to her as well.
Yes, it’s time to start acknowledging the importance of your feet physically and spiritually. Today.
Below are Hal Higdon’s tips for caring for your feet.
Find the Perfect Fit Proper shoe selection is vital to foot health–not merely the shoe brand and model, but the fit. “Bad shoe fit can cause a multitude of problems for your feet, everything from numbness and burning to blisters and painful calluses,” says Rick Braver, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Englewood, N.J., who treats many runners. Shoes that are too short can cause black toenails. Shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot can cause pinched-nerve pain, bunions, corns or calluses. Shoes that are too wide allow the foot to slide around, which causes undue friction, which in turn can lead to blisters. And so on. Unfortunately, many shoe stores carry only the most popular sizes.
If you have especially large, small, narrow or wide feet, your shoe choice may be limited. Some brands offer width sizing in a couple of models–particularly New Balance, which offers three or four widths with every model. Orthotics wearers or runners with high arches often need shoes with more depth. So if you require a shoe that’s anything out of the ordinary, you need to shop around. As always, your best bet is a specialty running store. And when you go shopping, seek out a pedorthist. A few running stores have these shoe-fitting specialists on duty, but runners too often depend on salespeople with limited shoe-fitting knowledge. This is particularly true in big sporting-goods chain stores, where the person selling running shoes may not even run. Even if you do get the right fit, realize that shoes shrink over time, particularly if you get them wet often (either from excessive sweat or precipitation). And while your shoes are shrinking, your feet are getting bigger and wider. Not overnight, mind you, but over the years your feet can expand two full sizes or more. Which is why you should be measured every time you buy shoes. (For more shoe-fitting tips, see “Get Fit Now” above.)
Extend Your Tread Life Once you purchase shoes with the right fit, you then need to maintain them and replace them when they’re worn out. The average life of most running shoes is 350-500 miles, but if you’re a heavier or taller runner, or if your gait isn’t smooth, you may need new shoes sooner. Even you light-footed types should know that shoe materials deteriorate fairly quickly; after just 100 miles, a running shoe loses some of its shock-absorption. After a wet run, many runners throw their shoes next to a heater or put them in direct sunlight to dry. Bad move. Over time, this will cause your shoes to shrink. Nor should you stash your running shoes in an unheated garage or on the outside porch in cold weather. Cold temperatures make the midsoles harder and less cushiony. It’s best to store your running shoes in the house away from the heat after removing insoles or orthotics. A tip: If you run every day, invest in multiple pairs of running shoes so you always have a dry pair. And pay attention to the condition of your shoes, especially the midsole, the section between the outer tread and the “upper” that your foot fits into. If the midsole is compressed, brittle or feels unusually hard, it’s probably worn out. If so, don’t use the shoes for running. Gardening maybe, but not running.
Examine Your Loafers Fit is just as critical in your non-running footwear as it is in your running shoes. Generally, a shoe you can lace up will fit better than a shoe you can’t, such as loafers or pumps. When trying on dress shoes, put on the socks you would normally wear with them. Same goes for orthotics. If you use them in your dress shoes (a good idea), make certain you wear them when trying on new shoes. Also, dress shoes with rubber soles offer more cushioning than hard-soled shoes. And as any podiatrist will tell you, high-heeled shoes should be outlawed. Aside from the agony of squeezing your foot into them, impact forces for high heels are six times what they are for regular shoes. New York City-based pedorthist Robert Schwartz says if you like to wear heels frequently, don’t go any higher than 1 inch.
Utilize Your Sock Options Ill-fitting socks are one of the primary causes of blisters. Wet socks and cotton socks can also cause blistering. Dave Zimmer, owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Chicago, always points his running customers to a rack of form-fitting socks made of acrylic materials. He stocks many different styles of socks for runners: five brands and four thicknesses. “Fit is as important in socks as it is in shoes,” says Zimmer. Fortunately, socks cost significantly less than shoes, so you can afford to experiment. Just make sure you try on socks with your running shoes. When you do find a brand, style and fabric that works for you, buy several pairs. But keep in mind that the pair that works well in a summer 5-K may not provide the same comfort during a marathon or keep your feet warm in winter. With so many sock options, there’s no excuse for wearing the wrong pair.
Soften Your Skin Some runners are particularly prone to dry feet, which invariably leads to painful cracking feet. The solution: use a moisturizer such as Neutrogena foot cream every day. Rub it into the skin until your feet feel soft and smooth. The best time to moisturize your feet, says Stephanie Marlatt Droege, D.P.M., a podiatrist from La Porte, Ind., is immediately after a bath or shower. “Applying moisturizer at that time will help retain some of the water from your shower,” says Droege. For those especially prone to blisters, Lowell Weil, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Des Plaines, Ill., suggests using a skin moisturizer or lubricant not only on the skin, but also outside your sock to cut down on the friction that causes blisters. Various brands of petroleum jelly work well here, as do non-petroleum-based sport products such as Bodyglide.
Keep Them Dry Some of you suffer from dry feet, while others suffer from sweaty, wet feet, which makes you more prone to athlete’s foot and other fungal problems. Keeping your feet dry isn’t easy, as you have approximately 125,000 sweat glands in each foot, and each foot can produce 4 ounces of moisture a day. For this problem, lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking socks are the way to go. But you’ll also have a moisture problem in winter if you slog through slush, snow and puddles too often. Again, moisture-wicking socks will help, along with a pair of waterproof trail-running shoes. As always, make sure your shoes are dry before wearing them again. And never wear damp socks.
Fight That Fungus Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that causes itchy scaling, redness and blisters on the toes and soles of the feet. It hurts, too. Athlete’s foot and other foot fungi thrive in dark, moist areas, which is why keeping your feet clean and dry is the best prevention. Other preventive measures: change your socks often, use antiperspirants on your feet and wear flip-flops in locker rooms (a.k.a. breeding grounds for athlete’s foot fungus). If you get athlete’s foot, treat it with an over-the-counter fungicide. It’s important to do this as directed two or three times a day for two to four weeks. In other words, stay with the treatment, as the fungus can linger after the symptoms are gone. If the fungus comes back, alternate medications; athlete’s foot fungus can build up resistance to a particular fungicide.
Cool Down Your Toes If your feet swell or get overheated when you run, consider applying ice or soaking your feet in cold water immediately afterward. Adding Epsom salts to the cold water helps some runners, but the downside of using salts is that, if overused, they can make your feet too dry. Another option: Run cold water from a garden hose over your feet. Or if you happen to end your run near a cold stream, stick your feet in the water for a few bracing minutes. If your feet tend to get noticeably swollen after your runs, lay down for several minutes with your legs raised and use an ice pack on them. Just don’t keep the ice on your skin for more than 20 minutes, or you’ll risk frostbite.
Get Professional Help Chic people have been getting pedicures for years in order to have beautiful-looking toenails to display in open-toed shoes. But having a pedicure isn’t merely cosmetic. A pedicurist can trim your toenails (especially important before a big race), treat debilitating calluses, moisturize the skin and massage the feet. Some podiatrists offer pedicures, but you’ll probably pay less and get more thorough treatment if you can find a well-trained pedicurist operating out of a health spa or salon. “Well-trained” is the key, since not all pedicurists are equal and know how to treat runner’s feet. Ask your podiatrist for a recommendation, talk to other runners who have had pedicures or check at your local running store for a referral.
Find the Rub A weekly massage will do wonders for your feet (not to mention your outlook), and it will be most effective if you guide the therapist to the problem spots. Also, consider self-massage (see “Put Your Thumb on It,” below left). One good trick: use a wooden foot roller (available at many health-food stores and running shops) to stimulate the foot muscles. Rolling two or three golf balls or even a rolling pin under your feet also works well. Reflexology is the next step up from regular foot massage. Its practitioners–called reflexologists–believe the feet are a “mirror” of your body. They believe that particular areas in the feet correspond to particular organs, glands and body parts, so working a specific spot on the foot will help heal the corresponding body part. Whether you agree with that or not, reflexologists invariably give great foot massages. (For more on reflexology and to find a reflexologist near you, check out www.reflexology.org.)
Practice Damage Control It’s the old story: If you attend to a foot problem right away–be it a blister, callus or tender area–chances are good it won’t develop into something debilitating. Says Weil: “Blisters left untreated can become seriously infected and painful. Ingrown toenails and sore calluses shouldn’t be ignored, either. Both can be treated quickly and easily by a professional.” If you get a blister, try leaving it alone for 24 hours. It may heal itself. If the fluid isn’t absorbed in that time, puncture the blister using a sterilized needle and drain the fluid. Always be careful to preserve the outer skin, which will protect the blister. Then apply Vaseline or Preparation H and cover with a gauze pad or bandage, or try a specialized new Band-Aid product called Blister Block. (All these coverings can be used preventively as well.) If you get blisters often, you may need to change shoes or try a commercial insole such as those from Spenco, Sof Sole, Dr. Scholl’s or Sorbothane. Insoles can help reduce the friction that causes blisters.
Put Your Toes to Work The foot needs strength-training like much of the rest of the body. “Many injuries are directly related to weak feet,” says John Pagliano, D.P.M., a Long Beach, California-based podiatrist and author of several books on running injuries. “If the muscles are weak, they will not move the foot into its proper running position. The foot flops around instead of pointing straight ahead. Also, the stronger your foot and leg muscles are, the faster they can propel you forward.”
The simplest way to strengthen your feet is to kick off your shoes and go barefoot whenever you can. And two or three times a week, take a few minutes for these foot exercises:
1. Toe rises. Standing with feet slightly apart, rise up on your toes 20 times.
2. Heel drops. Standing with toes on a step, drop the heels below the step (and back up) 20 times.
3. Towel pulls. Put a towel under your foot and pull at it with your toes for 30 seconds.
4. Toe grabs. Grasp a pencil or marble with your toes.
5. Alphabet practice. Trace the letters of the alphabet (A to Z) on the floor with the big toe of each foot.
Get Fit Now Finding the right running shoe may be the most important thing you can do for your feet. Here are some buying tips: 1. Be prepared to spend at least 20 minutes at the store. You want to give yourself plenty of time to try on a variety of styles, models and sizes. 2. The best time to shop for shoes is at the end of the day or after a run. That’s when your feet have swelled to their maximum size. 3. Get your feet measured (length and width) by knowledgeable store personnel. Even if you know your size, have both feet measured. If the sizes differ, fit the larger foot. 4. Sizes vary among brands. Judge a shoe by how it fits your foot, not by its listed size or by what you think your shoe size is. 5. Wear the socks you expect to run in. If you wear orthotics, put them in the shoes you’re considering. 6. Stand during the fitting process. There should be about a half-inch (the approximate width of a thumbnail) between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. 7. Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably in the widest part of the shoe. The heel should fit snugly without any slippage. 8. Walk around the store in the shoes. Jog a little. If possible, take a few strides outside to see how the shoes feel. Some specialty running stores have treadmills for this purpose. If so, jog on it for a minute or two to test your shoes.
Put Your Thumb on It Massaging your own feet isn’t like having someone else do it, but, if done correctly, it’s just as effective, and it doesn’t cost a dime. To do it right, reflexologist Laura Norman of New York City suggests using moisturizing lotion first. “Then I do a general foot rub as the preparation phase,” says Norman. After preparing the feet for several minutes, dust them with powder and continue to massage until your feet feel smooth “Then do some ‘thumb walking,’ ” says Norman. To do this, hold one foot at the toes, heel or ankle, and place the thumb of your other hand on the sole of the held foot. Apply steady pressure with that thumb, moving up and down the sole like a caterpillar.