These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them. -Rumi
Foot pain is really no fun and I feel for anyone suffering from a variety of foot related ailments: plantar fasciitis, bunions, neuromas, hammer toes and plain old tired, achy feet. More than a year ago, I found myself in a similar situation. While, it wasn’t clearly any of the conditions listed above, I was still experiencing pain on a regular basis in my right foot. Seeing that I have a pretty active lifestyle, I was quickly looking for relief.
During that process, I got relief from acupuncture (with cupping and electrical stimulation) as well as cold laser therapy from my chiropractor. Those modalities were super helpful, but what I feel has really made the long term difference is self-care. So, here are 7 tips for ending foot pain or just taking better care of your feet:
1. Stretching and strengthening. It’s time to get out a tennis ball and roll it underneath your foot. Do this a couple of times a week. It can really help release tension in the fascia layer, as well as restore proper mobility in all the small bones of the foot. You can do this seated for less pressure or standing for more intensity. You should also consider stretching your calves daily, like in downward facing dog or using a towel rolled up underneath the ball of the foot while keeping your heel on the ground and your hips over your heels. For strengthening, try spreading your toes and even moving each toe individually. It feels impossible at first, but it does get easier.
2. Toesox or Correct Toes. Toesox are socks that are like gloves, but for your feet. These are really helpful for spreading toes and counteracting tight toe boxes in most shoes (more on that soon). Correct toes is the same concept but it takes it up a notch because it’s made of silicon and the divider is slightly larger than cotton socks. Both are helpful for increasing mobility and flexibility in your toes and forefoot. Using these will also force you to realize that some of your shoes might not be wide enough to accommodate proper toe spreading, which leads us to #3.
3. Changing your shoes. You may find that this is the biggest help for reducing foot pain. I used to love a pair of cute flats, which to give myself some credit flats are much better than heels for overall health. However, once I started experimenting and trying to figure out what was going on with my feet, I realized that a big problem was that I was cramming my toes into narrow toe boxes and then walking around like that all day. My toes and feet were not happy about this. Since feet are our base for movement, the rest of my body wasn’t impressed either. Low back pain anyone? Changing your shoes will help not only your feet, but your entire gait and everything above the feet. Wait, that’s like your whole body! The good news is that many new shoe companies are on the rise for offering more foot-friendly and minimalistic foot wear. See end of post for recommendations.
4. More barefoot time. Our feet are designed to support us without footwear. I know that may be hard to believe, but it’s true. That doesn’t mean they are designed to walk barefoot on asphalt and concrete all day. These man made structures can be hard on our feet. So, when considering more barefoot time, I am referring to barefoot time either at home or in a natural environment (park, beach, grass, dirt and so on). Walking barefoot in a natural environment gives your feet a chance to really respond to un-level surfaces, which increases your strength and flexibility. This goes for the feet as well as ankles, lower legs and even hips, pelvis and low back. As a bonus, grounding or spending time in direct connection with the Earth’s energy has a whole host of calming and revitalizing benefits. It’s important to take it slow if you’re new to being barefoot. Start with 5-10 minutes a few times a week and see how you respond. Then, go from there. It’s normal for your feet to feel a little achy at first as you are rebuilding strength in the intrinsic foot muscles.
5. Postural Awareness. This is super important and it takes a lot of conscious effort and time to make changes. The way we walk is greatly influenced by how we first learned to walk as a child and who we observed walking even prior to that. As babies, we learn in large part by mimicking what we see. So, if you notice that when you’re walking your right foot turns out slightly, then you might be surprised to find that your mother, father or other child caretaker has the same pattern. That’s great information, but what can we do with it? Well, you can start to really become aware of how you move your body in space throughout the day. At first, this can be challenging, but if you start to make the habit of checking in with yourself throughout the day it gets easier and you can make small changes. Ideally, the feet should face forward with little to no turn out. While it may be normal to have some turn out, that doesn’t make it ideal. It’s only normal because so many people have it. Another thing to look out for is when you’re standing up straight the hips should be over the knees and knees over the ankles. This is called vertical stacking and it’s important for a couple of key reasons: proper weight bearing for optimal bone density and pelvic stability, as well as protecting the front of the foot from weight bearing. The front of the foot is not designed to bear the weight of your body. That’s what the heel is for. Keep checking in with any tendency to move hips forward and shoulders back when you try to “stand up straight.” Give it time and have someone take a photo of you for greater insight.
6. Epsom Salt Soaks. This tip is fairly straight forward and very soothing for tired, sore feet. Fill up your tub or a small basin with warm water and add a cup of epsom salts, soak your feet for 20-30 minutes and enjoy. I also like to add lavender essential oil. To do that, add a few drops of essential oil to the salt before adding the water. This helps the oil to be equally distributed and not just float on top of the water.
7. Ask for the message behind the pain. While tips one through six are more structure and physically oriented, this last tip is equally important. Our feet are connected to the first chakra, which is our root, how we find stability and how we begin movement forward as well. Pain in the physical body can often be a way to gather more insight into emotional blockages or subtle body issues. You can do this by simply asking your feet if they have a message to share with you. You can also try tracing your foot on paper and creating an image around that. See what emerges and get curious about it. Maybe it’s nothing more than an old injury that comes to mind or maybe it’s telling you that it’s time to take a step in a new direction. It’s easy to want to escape pain when we start to feel really uncomfortable; however, I think it’s more helpful to see it as an opportunity to learn something about how to better care for yourself.
It’s interesting to note that foot pain is also something that commonly plagues women in the third trimester of pregnancy. While it’s ideal to start addressing some of these structural and posture changes prior to conceiving, it can still be helpful to use these self-care practices at any point in your pregnancy.
Thanks for sticking with me for this longer post! I hope it helps. Let me know what works for you, even if it didn’t make the list.
For more information, check out the resources that have inspired this post: