Physio: Summer shoes can be a pain

Get your feet in shape for wearing less supportive summer-time footwear.

Spring has come to the Okanagan and toes everywhere are happy to be free again.

Being released from our bulky Sorels, skiing and snowshoeing boots, most of us have donned the light runners, flats and flip-flops.

Over the winter, our feet become accustomed to the rigid, supportive boots we wear for tackling icy and snowy terrain. As the snow melts off away, you may find yourself running or walking more frequently in a less supportive shoe. Some feet may respond negatively to the lack of support found in most summer shoes. If we transition too quickly in flimsy shoes there is the potential of developing an injury known as plantar fasciitis.

This condition can cause pain in the arch, heel or ball of the foot due to inflammation in the plantar fascia from overuse or over stretching. The plantar fascia is connective tissue that covers the arch of your foot and connects your heel bone to the bones of your toes. This painful condition can be caused by standing, walking or running for long periods of time; walking or running on unstable surfaces like sand; or rapidly changing the amount of standing, walking or running involved in your day to day routine.

If you have plantar fasciitis you may experience pain on the first steps out of bed in the morning, or after sitting or driving for prolonged periods as the plantar fascia and muscles of your foot have become tight while immobilized, and respond with pain when being stressed upon those first steps.

Some people may be at higher risk of developing this condition based on the shape of their foot. People with very low arches and people with high arches who over-pronate, or lose the arch in their foot when they walk or run, may be at a greater risk. However, there is no evidence proving that if you have this type of foot you are guaranteed to develop plantar fasciitis.

In fact, there has been recent debate on whether or not it is better to wear supportive footwear to help maintain our arch shape, or wear minimalist shoes with very little support so that our muscles are required to function properly to support our arches.

We do know, however, that most of us will change our footwear from sturdy winter shoes to summer flip-flops, and most of us will increase the amount of time we spend walking or running in the summer compared to the winter.

In order to minimize the effects of this transition there are a few things you can do. While the weather is still warming up, you can start a training regime to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your calves and feet.

Recent research by Jung DY et el. 2011 and Mulligan EP, Cook PG 2013 shows that exercises for the bottom of the foot lead to an increase in strength in the muscles that support your arch and less navicular drop, a measurement of pronation.

Here’s one simple exercise you can start with is: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, keeping your toes and heels on the ground. Imagine a pin is coming up from the ground and poking your foot in the centre of the arch. Try to contract the muscles of your foot so this pin does not poke you. Now with the muscles of your arch contracted, balance on one leg while trying to maintain the position of your arch. Challenge yourself by throwing or kicking a ball while in this position or lifting up onto your toes.

After exercises, and a few other times during the day, remember to stretch the calves and bottom of your feet, to ensure they do not become too tight with the new amount of activity.

When you are ready to tackle your spring and summer activities, make sure to do it gradually. If you are a runner, don’t start running the distance you were running before the snow covered the trails. Take a few weeks to slowly increase your distance each day.

If your goal is to wear a less supportive shoe, like a barefoot sports shoe or flip-flop, the same rule applies. Wear this shoe for short periods of time each day, then switch to a more supportive shoe for the rest of your activity. Slowly increase the amount of time you spend in these shoes, so your feet have time to adapt to the change.

If you want happy feet this summer, slowly increase the time spent in new footwear during your spring and summer activities and get a head start on exercises that will help you to avoid plantar fasciitis. This will allow you to enjoy outdoor activities that are the highlight of this season.

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