Do you suffer from painful feet when walking?
More and more I am seeing people who are suffering with painful feet when walking. At first, I thought it was a condition reserved for the older population, but then I developed painful feet after a weekend of hiking.
I organised a hike with some friends and didn’t spend much time on what to wear on my feet. I popped in to a hiking shop and after trying on a few heavy, ugly men’s (bug feet!) hiking shoes, I decided I could get away with wearing an old pair of running trainers. I put my orthotics in them (these are off the shelf orthotics- approximately 5 years old) and thought I would be fine.
The walk was great in every way up and down undulating hills in the South Downs. I did become aware that my heels were starting to be painful and the orthotics felt as if they were too hard. The arch of my foot felt ‘tired’. As I kept going my feet began to feel as if they were hot and burning. All I wanted to do was rest them against something cold and soft.
Often the symptoms are on the heel or in the arch of the foot.
There are several causes of pain in the feet:
- Heel pain
- Tendon pain
- Metatarsalgia- pain in the front of the foot under the 2-4th toe
- Ankle pain
- Sprained ankle
When I experienced this foot pain as physiotherapist, I was obviously was very interested in how it felt and what to do to help… I was only 44!! I didn’t want bad feet! So, what helps?
The right shoes
I have flat feet, always have and have worn insoles on and off all my life. My feet have got worse over time and now they are as flat as a pancake. Prior to the walk, I was noticing that I was only comfortable wearing shoes that have some cushioning and that give my arch some support. Slowly and sadly I had to move towards the shoes that my 78-year-old mother wears and found myself commenting on ‘how cushioned those shoes look’.
Fashion shoes are not designed for feet, shoes such as ballet pumps have no cushioning on the soles and if you spend many hours walking, standing on concrete in these shoes your feet will start to complain. Even fashion trainers. I bought a lovely cool pair of VANS and I’m limited in how long I can wear them for without getting heel pain but also forefoot pain.
Shoes are important if you are commuting, spending your day on your feet or walking for leisure. We think we can get away without thinking about our shoes in these scenarios but sometimes we can’t.
I had a gentleman recently who could not get his head around wearing trainers as part of his work outfit.
The main things you need to look for in a good shoe are:
- How much cushioning there is on the sole of the shoe
- Wide enough and gel cushioning under the front of the foot (reducing Morton’s Neuroma and metarsalgia)
- Heel support or lock to reduce the motion through the heel joint
- Arch support (although you can add in an extra arch support if you need).
I have researched a list of good shoes for style (ish!) and good walking shoes. My first tip is that lace up shoes firstly can make the feet feel supported and also will allow the arch support to fit snuggly into the shoe.
Slip on shoes and sandals will not offer you such support so perhaps think about the cushioning and how long you have to wear them for when choosing sandals or slip ons.
Vionics shoes offer walking trainers as well as stylish work/leisure shoes. They are mentioned in several article reviews. If you are walking over 10,000 steps a day, I think its worth getting a walking shoe.
- Avoid flat soled shoes/ fit flops.
- Avoid shoes that don’t suit the shape of your foot
- Shoes that are too big will allow your foot to move too much and shoes that are too small will bring pressure points on the foot.
If you are planning walking trips/ hill walking or trail walking, here are some good options for walking trainers and shoes.
Clinicians automatically presume that when you have foot pain you need orthotics. What was interesting was that when my feet were painful it felt like what I needed the most was cushioning not just arch support and I felt like I needed to take out the orthotics. I have heard patients say this as well. Don’t assume orthotics will help and if they make your feet feel pain then take them out.
Orthotics are designed to steer your foot towards more aligned movement. In walking ideally, we want to step through our big toe and as we do this the arch lifts our foot up like a spring action. Sometimes our feet (those pancake feet) land flat on the front of the foot sometimes not taking the weight through the big toe but rolling off onto your 2-4th toes (metatarsals). The arch stays flat and the foot rolls in (too long in pronation).
The orthotic is designed to support the arch, direct the foot through the big toe and sometimes add more cushioning. You can get off the shelf orthotics/ semi mouldable or specifically made ones.
My advice is to try an off the shelf orthotic, as a consistent wearer of orthotics what I now desire is one that’s not so hard or rigid. They are also completely over priced as a product that I think try the cheaper version.
Premium Orthotic Gel High Arch Support Insoles
I recently found a great pair on Amazon for a very good price. Job done!
My final bit of advice on general off the shelf orthotics is if it feels like you are walking with a peddle in your shoe, then it doesn’t fit your foot and you may need a more specific or mouldable one. The Sweat Shop in Teddington do these.
What can I do when my feet are sore?
The Benefits of Ice
For 3 days after the walk my feet weren’t exactly painful, they felt tired and like they needed some attention. I found some frozen peas and iced them 2-3 times a day… It felt fantastic! I would highly recommend getting a gel pack and keeping it in the freezer. Place a tea towel or wear your socks and rest your feet on the pack for 20 minutes.
Self-massage is great for plantafascia and foot pain. The foot has to work hard every day pounding on concrete and hard roads and offices. As we get older our natural cushioning on the soles of our feet get thinner and thinner, and therefore we notice the impact on our feet. We also may get tightness through our feet and this can lead to night cramps. Massaging the soles of our feet can help ease the pain and tension.
Get some cushioned slippers and give them a rest
The end of my painful foot story is that I iced and rested (relatively reduced how much walking I was doing and spent a little less time on my feet). By 4 days they had settled. Try and catch it quickly and listen to what your feet are saying.
Need further advice?