At a recent gathering with women friends, our discussion ran to the unglamorous topic of feet. You know, this little piggie and all that. I had to chuckle as we raved about the comfort of our less-than-fashionable footwear.

Three of us were wearing clunky shoes with orthotics, recommended by our doctors for various foot ailments. If anyone would have told me 20 years ago that I’d be decked out in orthopedic shoes like my grandma, I’d have laughed.

Well, here I am. And I’m not laughing.

My Sad Foot Story

What happened? Well, age has plenty to do with it, along with overtaxing my hoofers. Their demise began after a few glorious months of pounding away at dance class two hours a week – modern dance and tap. I loved it. My feet didn’t.

Before long, it was agony to stand barefoot on my kitchen floor. I struggled with heel pain for quite a while before I went to see Dr. Mike, our sports medicine guru. The culprit? Plantar fasciitis.

Mike fitted me with orthotics to support my arches and told me to give up dance until my feet were healed. Well, here I am three years later, still dreaming of tap. My feet are better, but just when they seem healed, I overtax them again.

A Surplus of Foot Ailments

Other foot ailments plague my friends: heel spurs, bunions and Achille’s tendonitis. Morton’s neuroma and hammertoes are two additional foot ailments common in the middle years. I’d always been aware of athlete’s foot and blisters, but who knew we’d have all these other problems?

Plantar Fasciitis

My problem, plantar fasciitis, is characterized with pain caused by the straining of tissue connecting the heel to the toes. It can be the result of fallen arches, tight calf muscles, weight gain, worn shoes and walking too much.

Heel Spurs

Another ailment is heel spurs. These are abnormal bony growths on the bottom of the heel caused by plantar fasciitis or an over-stressed arch (from overuse or running).

Bunion

A bunion is a large bulge on the outside of your big toe joint, resulting from fallen arches and a tendency to overpronate or from wearing tight shoes.

Achille’s Tendonitis

When you have Achille’s tendonitis you feel soreness on the back of the ankle, sometimes with a sharp pain in the calf, caused by stressing and inflaming the Achille’s tendon.

Hammertoe

Hammertoe is having a middle toe that curls under and develops a corn on top – often the result of an overly long middle toe.

Morton’s Neuroma

Finally, Morton’s neuroma is a pain or burning on the underside of your foot, behind the toe, caused by a thickening of tissue around the nerves between the toes. It’s more common in women who wear heels or tight shoes.

Tips to Prevent Foot Maladies

First, wear comfortable, roomy shoes – and give up those heels! Find shoes that give your feet support without cramping your toes.

Treat your feet especially kindly if you are planning to overtax them with a dance class or a marathon.

Make sure you wear quality shoes, and if you suspect that you may have injured your feet, use ice as you would on any injury to keep inflammation from destroying tissue. Replace you running shoes at least every 500 miles (or every six months, whichever comes first).

Another factor that affects your feet is, of course, the load they carry. If the load is equal to the length times the width… figure it out. You may not be able to do much about your height, but girth is within your control. That’s enough said.

It’s been shown that differences in gait can contribute to foot problems, too. Most people step first on the outside of the heel and then the rest of the foot rolls in toward the big toe. Pronating is walking more on the insides of your feet, while supinating is walking more on the outside.

You can tell how you walk by looking at the bottom of a worn pair of shoes. The wear should be fairly consistent down the middle of the sole. If there is more wear to the inside or the outside, your stride may be ‘off.’

I’ve tried to alter my supinating stride deliberately, but it’s hard after 60+ years of walking like a duck. I have found a tennis shoe, though, that adjusts for my problem.

You can go to an athletic shoe store for help in finding the best shoes to correct your problem. My high-arched, supinating feet like New Balance shoes.

I could go on and on, but if you’d like more information on foot ailments and their treatments, check out WebMD on foot problems.

It’s not surprising that almost every ailment can be eased by wearing sensible, well-fitted shoes (like Grandma Wellumson – and me). It’s worth putting money on your feet – they’re your ticket to the exercise that helps you lead a long, healthy life.

Until your feet heal, consider joining the gang at the pool for exercise. Swimming and water aerobics are easy on your feet.

Now that my feet are healed, I’m back to walking at least a few miles a day. I still love to dance, too, but now I do it in Danscos – clunky but comfortable. Grandma would approve.

Which of these common foot ailments has plagued you? What ways have you found to help ease the symptoms? What kind of shoes do you wear? Please share your advice and tips so other women can face these ailments well-prepared.

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