Given the teasing I’ve taken from shoe-loving female colleagues and family members over my disregard for stylish shoes, you’d think my feet would give me a break. Throughout my working life I favoured shoes with relative comfort and conservative style. But despite preferring foot comfort to high fashion, I still ended up with some foot issues that are clearly a result of having worn heels (not that high, really) daily for decades. It appears that if you focus most of your weight on the ball of your feet and block out the discomfort that accompanies your little toes being squished against inflexible leather walls, eventually you pay for it. Go figure.
The good news is that once you retire you can leave your heels in the closet most of the time. The bad news is that your feet rev up their complaints when you use them to run long distances. Your feet swell, your toes spread out and bump against the wall of your sneaker, the ball of your foot fights back against what it interprets as unnecessary abuse. Some people get blisters and others get calluses or corns. Some try to counter foot pain by avoiding that part of their foot, which causes further problems through unnatural alignment. In overcoming my own issues, I tried many, many enhancements, aids, and adaptations before finally landing on a mixture of solutions that work pretty well.
In working through my particular foot problems, I have learned:
- You can figure it out, but you need a lot of patience and resourcefulness.
- There are many people seeking help for foot pain through blogs and other on-line discussion forums. Runners describe their problems and their attempted solutions and outcomes. If you look hard enough, you’ll find someone who has the same issues as you. That’s a reassuring first step.
- Just because a solution works for someone else, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
- Health care providers as a source of help with foot issues? … Iffy.
- Finding the right running shoes … priceless.
Once I could keep running for a reasonable amount of time, I would start getting pain in the ball of my left foot at about the 3-mile mark. I had running acquaintances tell me I should get orthotics and everything would be fine. I did just that, and there was an immediate improvement, not just with running but with walking for more than 30 minutes. Hurray. Thus kitted out, I continued to train for longer distances, but once I could handle more miles I realized that by the 5-6 mile mark the pain in my left foot would return.
This is when I undertook extensive Internet searches to find answers to “pain ball of foot”. I discovered that I undoubtedly had some degree of metatarsalgia and probably some neuroma between my outer toes in my left foot (both due to wearing heels!). This was all later confirmed by a podiatrist, but that experience will described in a future post. I read every online discussion I could find and, over the course of a year or so, tried every ball-of-foot pad, metatarsal pad, and other aid available in my town. I also ordered a few aids on-line. I have a whole drawer full of foot aids! Some of them were useless right from the get-go. Others worked pretty well for a few miles, but as my feet swelled with distance, the aid took up too much room in my shoe and caused its own problems. On one run I took three different options with me and tried each one in turn. I didn’t like any of them. No matter what I tried, after about the 8-mile mark the pain returned.
The very good news is that I finally found the aid that worked for me; I discovered it in a posting a reader had added to a Runner’s World discussion site. It wasn’t available in Canada, but Foot Smart’s e-commerce site mailed to Canada. A little blue gel pad (near the bottom right in the picture above) that you stick onto the bottom of your foot before putting on your sock allowed me to run 26.2 miles more comfortably than I could run 8 miles without it. A miracle. Some other straightforward but difficult-to-identify solution might be just the ticket for another runner. If you have a problem with foot pain, keep looking, keep trying.
There are other pieces to the happy-foot puzzle: ensuring you get the right orthotics; ensuring you get the best shoes; using a podiatrist; finding your favourite socks; and avoiding blisters and calluses. Then, of course, there’s always the question about the value of pedicures! Over the next week or so I hope to share what I have discovered about these pieces and what has worked for me.
Meanwhile, I would love to hear what challenges and solutions others have had in ensuring their feet have a high happiness quotient. What makes the difference for you?
See also related post: Here an orthotic, there an orthotic