By Aparna Jacob
Your feet are the most underestimated yet the most overworked part of you. Here's how to keep them smiling.
They were black, gorgeous, 4.5-inch heeled beauties that I purchased on an impulse. But after I'd lumbered to work in my new shoes for a week, I noticed I was tired all the time. Most days I was snappy and irritable, on others listless and lethargic in the extreme.
'Those are killer shoes,' observed body-mind therapist Behroze Khajotia, not in the least intending it as a compliment. 'Didn't you know 80 per cent of all foot problems occur in women because of high heels?' admonished Miss Sensible Flats. 'Shoes like these can lead to all sorts of secondary problems, such as leg cramps, knee pain and backaches, even pain in the eyes. That should explain your moods!'
Since feet are very small in comparison to the rest of your body, each step you take exerts tremendous force upon them; almost 50 per cent greater than your body weight. And did you know during a typical day, the average person spends about four hours on his or her feet and takes between 8,000 and 10,000 steps?
Feet have been referred to as mirrors of the self. More importantly, they are excellent indicators of general health. A reflexologist will tell you that there are 65 reflex points on your feet, each of which corresponds to a particular gland, organ or body part. The way you treat your feet could determine the well-being of these organs and vice versa. Problems with your feet could be the first indication of more serious medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders. Swollen ankles, for instance, can indicate congestive heart failure. Feet that are insensitive to pain and temperature can be a sign of diabetes. Cold feet may be symptomatic of circulatory disease and clubbed toenails may indicate chronic respiratory disease.
On the Wrong Foot
Painful feet are impossible to ignore, and must be attended to quickly. Inspect your feet regularly, watch for changes in colour and temperature. Look for thick or discoloured nails (a sign of developing fungus), and check for cracks or cuts in the skin. If you have numbness, tingling, persistent foot pain, discoloration or colour change in your skin, see a doctor.
According to footdoctor.com, unhappy feet can be traced to one or a combination of these causes: Ill-fitting shoes, particularly ridiculously high-heeled ones concentrate pressure on the toes and aggravate foot problems. Sometimes, the wrong posture while walking, like shuffling or dragging feet, can lead to foot pain. Ailments connected to poor circulation and imbalance in energy can make the feet vulnerable. Straining and overworking muscles during high-impact exercising like jogging or aerobics, can injure feet. People who spend a lot of time standing on hard surfaces such as concrete, become prone to heel and forefoot pain.
Inadequate care could lead to a host of foot ailments. Tight shoes, for instance, cause bony parts of your feet to rub against your shoes leading to corns and calluses.
Painful heels occur in the absence of adequate cushioning in shoes, and by being on your feet too much, for too long. Fungal and bacterial conditions, including athlete's foot, occur when feet spend a lot of time in shoes. Ingrown toenails, very common in the large toes, which happen if you don't cut your nails properly, occur when a piece of the nail breaks the skin.
Diabetics need to be especially watchful as even a small cut could have serious consequences. In this condition, the reduced blood flow to the feet makes it harder to heal an injury or resist infection.
On the Right Foot
Ayurveda attributes all foot problems to an imbalanced vata dosha. Drinking adequate water and eating ghee made from cow's milk will right the dosha mbalance. Here are a few suggestions to remedy common foot ailments
For dry feet and cracked heels:
o Prepare a footbath adding a teaspoon of triphala, neem leaves, kapoorkachri and jestimadhu powder in half a bucket of hot water. Allow it to cool down to a comfortable temperature and then soak your feet in it for five to seven minutes. Rinse off with clean water, dry properly and apply ghee or ral ointment. You can also use beeswax, kokum-butter or white petroleum jelly. Wear cotton socks while sleeping.
o Take about three tablespoons of beeswax and mix one teaspoonful of warm sesame oil in it, apply on the cracks. Alternatively rub on some ghee.
o A mixture of one teaspoon of mango tree sap and one tablespoon water applied regularly mends cracks.
o Most women swear by the combination of glycerin combined with either vaseline or rosewater as it leaves feet soft and crack-free.
o In three tablespoons of honey mix one teaspoon of sesame oil. Warm it a little and apply on the feet to cure dryness and cracks.
o Massage feet in the morning and evening with warm castor oil with some turmeric in it.
Dhobi's itch: Swab the infected area with triphala or neem water, dry gently with sterile cotton and apply ghee and honey for instant healing. Apply either a neem leaf or sesame seed paste over the wound and bandage it well.
o Roast one garlic clove (dry or in a little ghee) until golden but not burnt. While still warm, apply garlic clove on the corn and place a band-aid over it. Use one clove of garlic for each corn. Leave it on for a day. Apply daily until corn falls off.
o The sap from a marigold stem, milky juice from green figs or papaya juice can also be applied regularly.
o Bandage a wedge of lemon on the corn and leave overnight.
Sweaty feet: Keep feet that tend to perspire a lot dry and fresh in warm weather by dusting them lightly with cornstarch or this natural anti-fungal preparation:
Take half-cup arrowroot, half-cup cornstarch, one teaspoon baking powder, two drops essential oil of peppermint, two drops essential oil of lemon. Pass the dry ingredients through a sieve two or three times to mix well. Add the essential oils to the mix, stir well, and sieve again. Store in a dry container.
Smelly feet: Take a large bowl, add a capful of mild shampoo and fill it with warm water; swish the water around a bit with a clean hand. Place your feet in the bowl, and let them soak for at least five minutes. Add mint leaves or a cinnamon stick to the water to get super fresh-smelling feet.
Exfoliating foot wrap: Combine two parts coarse oatmeal, two parts chickpea flour and one part rose water. Add warm water as needed to form a thick paste. Apply on your feet, especially on the heels and soles and scrub gently, then rinse off with warm water. Pat dry and follow with an application of coconut oil, shea butter or natural body lotion. Do this once a week for luscious feet.
To de-stress: A warm foot soak or a foot massage is an incredible stress buster, gets the blood moving and promotes restful sleep.
For a herbal foot soak, wrap quarter cup lavender flowers, quarter cup lemon peel, one tablespoon dried rosemary, two tablespoons fine oatmeal and two tablespoons almond meal in a muslin cloth and tie with a string. Drop in a bucket of boiling water and let steep for 15-20 minutes. When sufficiently cooled soak your feet in the water for 10 minutes. Listen to some soothing music. Breathe deeply.
You could also try this with quarter cup sea salts, one tablespoon Epsom salts, one teaspoon baking soda, two drops essential oil of lemon, two drops essential oil of sandalwood and two drops essential oil of coriander.
To massage, use a base oil like almond, cooling coconut oil, sesame oil or cold creme and a few drops of lavender or sandalwood essential oil. Gently massage your lower legs and feet for three to four minutes each until the oil is absorbed. Use soothing strokes and breathe deeply as you massage.
Make it a point to pile up a few cushions and put up your feet at the end of a long day.
Keep Tootsies in Mint Condition
o The instant you get home, knock off shoes and head for a foot wash. Use a mild soap. Don't soak your feet for too long as it could strip the skin of its natural oils. Remove hard skin gently with a pumice stone, but not if it is over a bony area or joint. Rinse off all soap and dry thoroughly, especially between toes.
o And while you are at it, rinse off your shoes (if not leather) and lean them against the wall to drain off water. Use a blow dryer if needed. Alternate pairs of shoes to allow them to dry out properly. Never share footwear.
o Use a lanolin-based moisturizer liberally, at least twice a week.
o Always trim nails straight to avoid ingrown toenails. Use proper nail clippers and do not cut them too short. File directly across. Paint a coat of invisible nail varnish to keep your nails from chipping.
o Remember to wear clean socks, changed daily. Don't wear ones that are too tight and constrict blood flow. Avoid the synthetic variety as far as possible. Opt for cotton ones that will absorb sweat and help your feet breathe. Did you know wearing socks to bed keeps your feet warm and helps you sleep better? It's best to keep feet warm as cold can impede blood circulation.
o Quit smoking. Feet being furtherest away from the heart have poor circulation and smoking further hampers blood circulation.
o Lose extra weight to lighten the burden on feet and joints.
o Don't sit for long periods of time (especially with your legs crossed). Exercise or walk daily to stimulate circulation.
o Watch your walk. Your heel should be the first part of your foot to touch the ground when you walk.
o Take a break when you're exercising or doing sports. Do calf stretches to loosen tense muscles.
o To reduce the effect of hard surfaces on your feet, wear supportive shoes with softer soles and innersoles. Arch supports will help distribute weight over a larger surface area so that pressure is not concentrated on the heel and forefoot.
o If you stand long hours at work, your muscles experience strain and you are likely to develop varicose veins. Alternately contract and relax the calf muscles, and flex and straighten ankles and knees. Walk whenever practical. Take the stairs.
Shoes are Us
Right shoes make for happy feet while wrong shoes can cause or aggravate foot ailments. When buying shoes, let comfort guide your choice. Wear and walk around before you buy the pair. Don't hope to break them in or stretch them with use.
Because feet spread with age, have your feet measured every time you buy shoes. Both feet should be measured as they are often different sizes. Always buy shoes for the bigger foot.
Always shop for shoes in the late afternoon. Feet swell to their largest then, sometimes up to a shoe size. Select soles that are strong and flexible with a good gripping surface. Insoles should be cushioned to absorb the jolts of walking on hard surfaces. The toe box should be roomy enough so you can wiggle all your toes. The heel should fit snugly and the instep should not gape open.
Low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and less damaging than high-heeled shoes. Wearing heels frequently for long periods of time can shorten the Achilles tendon and cause a loss in the range of motion in your feet.
Leather shoes are the best choice because leather lets the skin breathe, moulds to your foot and reduces the possibility of skin irritations. Fast-growing children's feet are best shod in canvas.
Lastly, you need to consider the activity you'll be requiring the shoes for and choose accordingly.
Many are the advantages of going barefoot. Our ancestors in villages seldom wore shoes and neither did they need to frequent a doctor with foot complaints.
Going barefoot ensures healthy development of the feet during childhood, helps form proper arches on growing up. For the old, it strengthens dozens of muscles, tendons and joints.
It can protect the intervertebral discs from deformation and slipping, by reducing impacts. The natural padding on the soles automatically compensates for the unevenness of the ground.
Going barefoot is commonly recommended to prevent varicose vein problems. The natural motions assist the leg muscles in pumping blood back to the heart.
Exposing the skin to the air, contact with grass or natural soil stimulates the nerve endings on the undersides of feet and promotes a sense of well-being. Also, it means no bacterial breeding, no fungal infections and no athlete's foot.
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