Best Foot Forward
Painful foot conditions make the simple act of walking around—not to mention exercising—a chore. Orthopedic disorders are the leading cause of inactivity and disability in the United States. If you want to be fit, take care of your feet!
The majority of foot disorders are treatable such as hammer toes and bunions. A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes causing the toe to bend at the middle joint and curl under. Initially, hammer toes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures, but if left untreated they may require surgery.
Hammer toes can be caused by heredity, arthritis, or a tight tendon that won’t allow the toe to flatten. Most often, however, it’s due to ill-fitting shoes. A narrow shoe with a tight toe box aggravates the condition, forcing the toe to bump up against the upper part of the shoe. High heels force the foot down, bending the toes against the shoe. Corns sometimes form on top of the hammertoe and at the tip of the toe, providing another source of pain.
Conservative treatment begins with wearing shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes. Your doctor may also prescribe toe exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles (try putting a towel under your feet and using your toes to crumple it). You can also purchase cushions, nonmedicated corn pads and straps, and orthotics that fit inside the shoe.
When conservative measures fail, hammer toes can be surgically corrected under local anesthesia by removing part of the bone so the toe can return to normal position. For most people, recovery takes four to six weeks and requires you to wear a splint and surgical shoe.
A more common disorder is bunions–sore bumps in the joint that connects your big toe to your foot or at the joint of the little toe. Small “bunionettes” can also form at the joint of the little toe, on the outside of the foot. More than half of American women have bunions, which are blamed on wearing tight, narrow shoes and high heels. Nine out of 10 bunions, in fact, occur in women—and nine out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Bunions not only affect the joint at the base of your big toe, but may also misalign other toes, which can cause the skin on the sole to become thick and painful. When bunions become severe, they can produce chronic pain and arthritis.
Most bunions are treatable without surgery. Wearing roomy shoes and using protective pads should relieve most of your pain. If your bunion has progressed to the point where you have trouble walking or wearing shoes, you may need surgery. Bunion surgery realigns bone, ligaments, tendons and nerves so your big toe can be brought back to its correct position. Recovery may take up to six months and require wearing a cast or special shoes.
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