Yesterday, I wrote a post about how high heels are the new smoking. (If you don't understand this statement, you will need to go back and review yesterday's blog.) I'm sure everyone who read that post went straight to the closet and gathered up all the dangerous shoes to donate to the less fortunate. Now that we have corrected our footwear, it is time to rehabilitate our poor feet!
Step 1: Remove your shoes! The best shoes to wear are no shoes at all. When we walk barefoot, we engage all the tiny muscles (and there are MANY!) in the feet. When you encase those same feet in shoes--especially stiff, tight shoes--you significantly reduce the amount of movement possible in those muscles. And this hinders blood flow, which in turn hinders healing. If your feet hurt when you go barefoot, you might try removing your shoes for short periods only. Maybe just while you're sitting on the couch. And when you must wear shoes, choose the thinnest and most flexible soles, a wide toe box, a firmly attached upper (not flip flops!), and no heel.
Step 2: Grab a tennis ball and use it daily! You can stash a few tennis balls in various areas of your home. Put one under your desk and another one by the couch. While you are sitting and typing, or watching TV, roll the sole of your foot over the ball. This will gently massage the ball and arch of the foot, increasing blood flow and stimulating the muscles, nerves, and skin. You can do the same thing while standing for increased pressure and a balancing challenge. If a tennis ball is too gentle, try a lacrosse ball.
Step 3: Learn to move your toes! No matter how old you are, your feet can still learn new tricks. Like spreading your toes wide apart, so you can see space between all of them. Like moving just your big toe. And, eventually, all the others, individually. At first, these goals might seem impossible. But with a little daily practice, you will soon find that your feet are capable of much more than you thought.
Step 4: Soak those feet! Grab a small tub, fill it with warm water, and add 1-2 cups of epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts will be absorbed through your skin, helping to relax all the muscles. I like to do this in front of the TV!
Step 5: Give yourself--or ask your spouse, or pay a professional to give you--a foot massage. You can simply rub your feet in a way that feels good. Or you can find a book on foot reflexology which promotes the idea that the feet are connected to the entire body through a network of points. Massaging your feet might just feel good, but it might also help the rest of your body feel good, too. You really can't go wrong here.
Step 6: Stretch! After a nice foot soak and massage, while your muscles are warm and relaxed, try some gentle stretches for the feet, calves, shins, and thigh muscles. Especially if you have spent a lifetime wearing shoes with heels (no matter what the height!) your calf muscles will end up shortened and tight. Flip flops will cause your toes to grip, creating excess tension in the foot. Often this tightness translates up through the body into the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and lower back. Take some time daily to lengthen these muscles. This will stimulate blood flow, relieve tension, and promote healing.
When caring for your feet, keep in mind that these practices (listed above) will make a big difference as you age. It is vital that we stay mobile as we move into our senior years. Keeping your feet healthy, pain-free, and strong will allow you to continue walking, which will keep you independent, allowing you to do your own shopping, cleaning, cooking, and leisure activities. This ability could keep you in your own home for many more years. This is no small feat. (Ha! Did you get it?)